Trend Watch

'Moron' Spikes After Tillerson Reports

The word has become a blanket term for “a very stupid person”


Moron was among our top lookups on October 4th, 2017, after it was widely reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had recently considered resigning and also had used the word in reference to President Donald Trump. Tillerson has disputed the accuracy of some of the reports.

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Photo: Office of the President-elect/GreatAgain.gov

The original sense of the word is now considered dated and offensive.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, in a hastily convened news conference on Wednesday, denied that he had ever considered resigning and dismissed an NBC News article reporting that he had called President Trump a “moron.”
— Eileen Sullivan and Gardiner Harris, The New York Times, 4 Oct. 2017

Moron has two definitions, one clinical and one colloquial. The clinical one is the older of the two (although still quite recent), dating from 1910, and was proposed by psychologists as a technical term for those with a certain degree of mental impairment. This sense is now quite dated, and it is considered offensive to use moron in this fashion.

The informal sense began to be used shortly after the technical one, and very quickly supplanted it, becoming a general-purpose term of abuse for “a very stupid person.”

”It seems to me sometimes that I am no more than an old moron and understand nothing, because otherwise I must allow for such loathsomeness…Silence!” he roared, and again the oldsters started and smiled.
— Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, 1935-6 (1959)

In case you were wondering, moron and oxymoron do share a root; both words come from the Greek mōros (“foolish, stupid”). Oxymoron, however, is considerably older, dating in use to the middle of the 17th century.



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