Cretin – Derivation of the Word

The Oxford English dictionary notes that the word Cretin derives from the use in Switzerland by medical practitioners at the turn of the 19th Century, to a group of people suffering the consequences of iodine deficiency leading to wasted and crippled bodies, poorly formed and often accompanied by a degree of dementia. The doctors explained the term was derived from the French ‘Cretien’, Christian, meaning ‘these are also human beings’. While the doctors may have known their medicine they certainly did not know their history or their language. I find this derivation almost universally distributed with all the authority plagiarists can muster.

Firstly let’s look at the idea the doctors presented. Looking at these wizened creatures compassionately they declare ‘these too are human beings’. However in school when I first came across the term in England – it wasn’t current in Australia where my education began – the word was used clearly as a term of abuse. As if to say ‘you subnormal imbecile’. This is a very different sense to that offered by the kindly Swiss doctors. I can understand their reluctance to acknowledge such outright prejudice as almost certainly surrounded the use of the term in their society also. (I wonder if this is not still the case.) So they thought quickly how to make themselves and their confreres appear more tolerant and came up with this derivation, no doubt in good faith.

However when we come to investigate the word we find it relates to a Sanskrit root which speaks of small, wizened and similar terms. Two words yield themselves immediately both carrying the sense of deformed. Vaikrita – modified, disfigured, not natural – and Vikrita – ugly, transformed, mutilated, maimed. In both of these words the emphasis is on Kri-.

There is a second meaning to words with a root beginning kri- and that is of maker and do-er.

Knowing that the first people to explore and inhabit Europe were the Cretans after their demise at Troy, we recognise that the word refers to the Cretans. This was a culture which introduced agriculture to Italy as well as the trappings of civilisation in the form of water usage, aqueducts, and canals. As also charcoal production, and its attendant coppiceing, forestry crafts and smelting. They came with their Gods called Satyrs and Saturnus. (See Werner Keller and Dr William Smith.) But more on these later.

These are same people the Cymru gave the name Prettanni to, (in place of Crettanni), which gave rise in turn to the kingdom of Prydain in the West of Wales, (that area now called Little England Beyond Wales, Pembroke and Dyfed), and in time to the word Britain. This area is also referred to in the Mabinogion as the Kingdom of Ireland, marking the colonisation of these islands by the same people.

In English we have the words cripple, creep, the movement of an injured creature, crouch, a stooping posture and other words that align with the concept of small or deformed. In the original research undertaken in the mid-1990s I found dialect words referring to fruit that were afflicted with deep creases and blotches and other related concepts.

My own derivation of the word is that it does indeed come from the arrogance of the taller Celtic, Gaelic and Germanic people coming in contact with the smaller, swarthy-skinned people of, originally, Indian stock. These taller fair-haired people then made mock of smaller people applying it in time to those of awkward or retarded mentality in their own societies. The notion of stupidity, a favourite slur of one group against another, may have come about through unfamiliar language and so struggling to understand meaning, or indeed from the hesitation that attends deference .

There is no question that the attitudes of these two races, the Dravidian and its later derivative cultures, and the Indo-European, were, and remain, greatly different from one another. The tragedy is that the intolerance that lead to the classical battles of the Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata, and the Trojan War that features in Homer’s works, are still going on today as the Tamil Tigers strive for recognition in their own country. This conflict is first recorded in the Ramayana. For more than 3000 years these families have been squabbling. The one seafaring traders, the other idle conquerors.