Village vacancies



They don’t make idiots like they used to. Once upon a long, long ago, in the late 1400s, an idiot was an ordinary person who lacked an education, someone without professional training, a layman in the church, or simply a private person. Clearly, idiocy was nothing to be ashamed of, and during the day the word hobnobbed with people like the author of the alliterative, allegorical poem Piers Plowman (who may or may not have been William Langland) and John Wycliffe who along with others translated the Bible into Middle English.


After a hard day of being charitable, however, the word would head to the nearest pub, have a few pints, and start calling everyone in sight a fool. That’s how Chaucer uses the word in the Wife of Bath’s prologue in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer and others used the word idiot both in this sense and in the sense of being mentally challenged. These three meanings were used concurrently until the end of the 17th century when the kinder meaning moved out of town. From that time on, the number of self-proclaimed idiots decreased dramatically, until the advent of the Internet and YouTube.


From the beginning, the word worked as both noun and adjective. The highly quotable Victorian poet, Lord Tennyson, verbified it in the phrase “Much befool’d and idioted.” I rather like it as a verb because it expresses the feeling I get from my fellow-drivers who have an inordinate interest in my bumper and try to inspect it while traveling 60 mph or who pull in front of me, curious to know whether or not my brakes still work. After any time on the road, I come home feeling idioted out.


I don’t consider myself an idiot driver; my skills in idiocy lie more in the why-did-I-wait-until-now-to-do-what-is-due-today type of situation, or the you-already-know-what-your-foot-tastes-like-so-why-do-you-keep-putting-it-in-your-mouth situation. Plenty of people have these problems, but the wise ones keep quiet about them. The others, like me, create blogs and wander around the Internet village broadcasting their idiocy. I am a private person by nature and back in the Middle Ages would probably have been called an idiot by my friends. At this point in my life I am advancing beyond my own middle age, wandering around the Internet village, unashamed, speaking to strangers and telling my secrets. Every village needs an idiot or two, and I’m here to fill the vacancy.



Addendum: No Comment


As a blogger, I’ve never wanted to be one of those drive-by likers, the ones who visit hundreds of blogs per day, indiscriminately liking posts in the hopes of getting liked back. I don’t always comment on posts that I like, but I occasionally try to write something that is spelled correctly, even if it doesn’t make sense.


These days, however, WordPress (which is easily flummoxed by what I write and thinks you will be too) will not let me comment when I want to. Over half of the comments I try to post are denied. I get the message that you see below.

 Sorry, this comment could not be posted.

If you are a blogger, you probably consider this good news. But I warn you, no system is idiot-proof. I will find a way to comment and flummox you again. Only because I think it’s good for you and helps build character.



23 thoughts on “Village vacancies

  1. First, I was just going to do a drive-by, (since I fear my spelling and grammar is too worn out today), but then I had to at least let you know that your use of the word as a verb had me giggling in that silly, happy, gleeful sort of manner that is usually reserved for bubbling astronauts at the bottom of an aquarium, or perhaps when I spot a particularly clever bumper sticker. Yes, it was me. Trying to read your bumper sticker. 🙂

    • WordPress obviously likes you better than me since it allows you to make comments. I have tried repeatedly to comment on my own blog and I get the “Sorry” message. I am answering via the dashboard. That seems to work.

  2. It never occurred to me to drive-by like…But then, I did apply once for the job of village idiot and failed it by turning up for the interview… 🙂 I had to say that. More seriously, a great post – we forget that words change usage like that with time. ‘Twit’ is another one, a verb meaning scoring intellectual points, often mischievously, and usually someone else’s expense. Nineteenth century British English usage. However, ‘to twit’ disappeared during the twentieth century in favour of ‘a twit’, a noun for idiot, wonderfully lampooned by Monty Python. And now I suppose there is a generation who think the word is some kind of shorthand for the name of a short internet messaging system.

    I love English, it’s a wonderfully dynamic language.

  3. Enjoyed this post very much. Blessed is the village idiot, and the role he plays, if there is a village, reminding us all of the frivolity of fate, and the fact that each of us lands in this world to fulfill a part, not of our own design. And of course, it’s such a pleasure learning a bit more about the English language from you. I suppose it’s natural for modest people to assume that authority has some worthwhile purpose, even if we ‘don’t get it’. But in this case, I’m convinced that the robots and programs designed by the ‘happiness engineers’ of wordpress have once again gotten drunk on silicon spray, and these barriers you have encountered are all a big mistake.

    • I’m happy that you enjoyed the post. There’s obviously a place in the WordPress village for everyone, and I’m sure that sooner or later they will fix the problem. I could understand it better if it was on all blogs, but it’s only on some that I am prohibited from commenting.

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