Medical Diagnosis: “Moron”

494px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Climbing_into_the_Promised_Land_Ellis_Island_-_Lewis_Wickes_HineIf someone calls you a “moron,” you should be very offended (feel insulted). A moron is someone who is very stupid. The term is harsher (more severe; more of an insult) than “stupid” or “dumb.” Today, Americans use this term as an insult, but in the early 1910s, being a “moron” might put you in a mental hospital (hospital for people with problems of the mind) or get you deported (kicked out of or told to leave a county permanently).

The term “moron” was a medical term invented by a psychologist (doctor studying the mind) named Henry H. Goddard. Goddard was interested in intelligence (how smart someone is) and he created a scale (measurement) to classify people of low intelligence. He initially used the term “feeble-minded” as his first category. (“Feeble” means weak or not strong. The other, more severe, categories of low intelligence were “imbecile” and “idiot,” terms also still used today as insults.)  He didn’t think the term “feeble-minded” was scientific enough, so he created the term “moron.” Today, none of these terms are used in science and medicine, of course.

Goddard was concerned about eugenics, the study of how to produce a better race of people by eliminating a population’s “bad” characteristics, such as low intelligence. His ideas were so influential that they affected immigration policy (rules allowing people to enter a country permanently) in the United States.

In 1913, Goddard sent his female assistant to Ellis Island, the entry point for immigrants in the 1800s and early 1900s, to spot (recognize) possible “morons” and to administer (give them) his intelligence tests. He believed that women were more intuitive (able to sense or feel things more easily) and could simply look at a person and determine who is and is not feeble-minded. The result was that 40% of the Jews, Italians, and Hungarians who were tested were determined to be morons. Based in part on his results, the following (next) year, the number of people deported for being feeble-minded doubled (increased 100%).

Goddard’s research was eventually disproved (shown to be false). In fact, Goddard himself later said that some of his most influential work was flawed (had problems). More importantly, he eventually said that he no longer believed that morons were incurable (cannot be treated and made to improve) and that they needed to be segregated (separated) from society and placed in institutions (mental hospitals).

Today, Goddard’s ideas no longer affect immigration policy, but the term “moron” continues to be a legacy (influence after death) and reminder of his dubious (of doubtful use or quality) work in the 1900s.

– Lucy

Photo Credit:  Brooklyn Museum – Climbing into the Promised Land Ellis Island – Lewis Wickes Hine from Wikipedia

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9 Responses to Medical Diagnosis: “Moron”

  1. Myo ko ko says:

    Hi, Lucy
    So long no see!
    How are you doing? Good? Great! 😉

    I hope I’m not a moron!
    Maybe I’m an idiot, instead! o.O

    According to the dictionary installed in my phone,
    a moron has an IQ scores somewhere between of 50-69 range.
    Whao! it seems the number is big to me.
    But I don’t know the IQ scores of an average or typical person like you and me.
    Who knows? I don’t.

    See? Here I go … even without knowing a normal person’s IQ scores,
    I’m making uncool attempts to impress all of you here, putting down gibberish!

    Have I said it already?
    Right! I choose to be an idiot … and getting ready to head an for insame asylum!

    Just trying to be funny! 🙂

    Thanks Xooo much, Lucy for the post!

    By the way,
    below are the definitions of that word that my dic; gives me:

    ( Glad to see the third meaning really fits me in! 😉 )


    noun (plural morons)

    (1) – (obsolete) A person of borderline intelligence in the former classification of mental retardation,
    having of an intelligence quotient of 50-69.

    (2) – (informal) A person who makes uncool, unfunny, uninteresting,
    or irrelevant (see lame) attempts to impress others and draw attention to themselves,
    especially in a flawed attempt to act like someone else.

    (3) – (slang) An idiot.

    Myo ko ko

  2. Dan says:

    Hello everyone

    At the beginning I thought the only moron was the psychologist.

    That because I thought “I bet that in the middle of those emigrants there were many far more intelligent than this psychologist”

    By the way, if anyone here is able to tell me the use of psychologists, I’ll be happy to know. Thanks in advance

    I mean. I kind of understand the role of the Psychiatrist, but the psychologist for me is a mystery.

    Anyway, since he himself admitted that his research was flawed, and that is a sign of intelligence, I do not think he was a moron at all.

    I was wondering what is influencing today’s immigration policy? Fear? hate? greed?

    just this morning I heard on NPR they were talking about all these kids trying to enter the US border and what they go through trying that. That was hard to listen to. Very sad.

    It was interesting to listen to all the listener’s opinion on the subject. There was the guy saying “seal the border” other saying the opposite of that.

    That is a complicated issue. Not at all easy to fix that.

    Hey, that guy in Las Vegas that shot two police officer and the civilian really was in need of a psychiatrist. Unbelievable the crazy people there are around!

    By the way, the NRA need to change their slogan “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” since in that case (Las Vegas) did not work. That probably only works in Hollywood movies.

    I noticed that many are saying that. That is the first thing came in my mind as I learned about the incident.


  3. Hilario says:

    The myth of intelligence.- Thanks to Dan for his point about of the dubious utility of psychologists in society. They seem to be as the modern version of tribal sorcerers taking advantage of unhappy people while making their bread and butter in the best case, out of modern capitalist´s society illness and its contradictions, isolations and desperations.
    The eugenic science has been studied way long from and as all sciences has some unhuman and erratic paths (see german nazis) and some others much more humanistics, organic and rationals.
    The great Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of the first thinkers about the principles of human eugenic. He built up some mathematical models based on the cartesian coordinates system to broadly describe the combined relationships and interactions among human transactions and emotions, formulating interesting ratios between absolute intelligence-stupidity (ordinates y-axis) and good-bad (abscissa x). He also established some accurate parametric equations for in deep analysis of the human casuistry and behaviour. From then this good branch of science simply vanished and flourished the bad and perverted branch of it. In MHO if you’re not making a substantial contribution to harmony environ in every life matter and human concern, in terms of empathy and simpathy, you can’t be called savvy, all you can be called is smartasshole (a new word in my dic).

  4. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    I am completely in sight with the start of the World Cup tomorrow here in Brazil. Brazilian team is good and they probably win the championship. Of course we have deep respect for the other teams but this time we’ll go to the end and winning all matches. May God be with us.

  5. Dan says:

    In certain way, reading this is good because reminds me that today, even though sometimes I find myself complaining, things are better.

    Certain views and way of thinking and looking at others are in the trash/garbage

    Reading this today is almost entertaining with all those funny terms/titles given to people.

    At the same time looking back at that way of thinking is scary. Wow! poor people.

    I must confess those are all terms I regularly use on several of my coworkers.

    One other famous Goddard I knew about is Robert Goddard. Thanks to that guy we can now leave Earth gravity.


    I like how feeble minded sound. I also like Moron.

  6. Tania says:

    Hi! Very interesting topic. I can’t remember if I have ever heard about “eugenics” studying the biology at school.
    Or International Federation of Eugenic Organizations promoting the sterilization laws,
    rejecting the doctrine that all human beings are born equal.
    At History I learned about the pure “Nordic race” or “Aryan race”.

  7. Tania says:

    Hi! We have a cake called “eugenia” with no link with “eugenics”.

  8. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for all terms regarding the stupidity:
    dumb, stupid, moron, imbecile, idiot.

    We use similar words: stupiditate, stupid, imbecil, idiot.

  9. Tania says:

    Hi! I have listened to the English Cafe 244/ 2010 about Ellis Island again.
    Hard times.

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