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Imbecile refers to mental retardation, as well as a type of criminal. The term is closely associated with psychology, psychiatry, criminology, and eugenics.

It derives from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak, or weak-minded. "Imbecile" was once applied to people with an IQ of 26-50, between "moron" (IQ of 51-70) and "idiot" (IQ of 0-25).

The term was further refined into mental and moral imbecility. The concepts of "moral insanity," "moral idiocy," and "moral imbecility," led to the emerging field of eugenic criminology, which held that crime can be reduced by preventing "feeble-minded" people from reproducing.

"Imbecile" as a concrete classification was popularized by psychologist Henry H. Goddard and was used in 1927 by United States Supreme Courtmarker Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his landmark ruling in the forced-sterilization case Buck v. Bell. The term imbecile quickly passed into vernacular usage as a derogatory term, and it fell out of professional use in the 20th century.

References

  1. Kerlin, Isaac N. (1889) Moral imbecility. Proceedings of the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-minded Persons, 15-18.
  2. Fernald, WE (1909). The imbecile with criminal instincts. American Journal of Psychiatry
  3. Rafter, Nicole Hahn (1998). Creating Born Criminals. University of Illinois Press, ISBN 9780252067419
  4. Goddard, Henry H. (1915). The Criminal Imbecile; an Analysis of Three Remarkable Murder Cases. The Macmillan Company


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