Cretinism (most likely from the Latin Christiānum, "Christian") is a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth due to untreated congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism). The term cretin refers to a person so affected. more...
Etymolology and usage of the term
The term cretin was brought into medical use in the 18th century from an Alpine French dialect where persons with such a condition were especially common (though the cause was unknown). It was used widely as a medical term in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but in recent decades has spread more widely in popular English as a markedly derogatory term for a hopelessly stupid person. Because of its pejorative connotations in popular speech, the term has been largely abandoned by physicians. A cretin of the Pyrenees was called a cagot (kag'ō).
The etymology of the word cretin is not known with certainty. Several hypotheses have been proposed. The most common derivation provided in English dictionaries is from the Latin Christiānum (Christian), via a medieval French dialect (compare modern French chretien). The connecting meaning between "Christian" and "cretin" is not obvious. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the translation of the Latin term into "human creature" implies that the label "Christian" is a reminder of the humanity of the afflicted, in contrast to brute beasts . Other sources have suggested "Christian" refers to the inability to sin of such a person who lacks the capacity to distinguish right from wrong .
Other speculative etymologies have been offered:
- From creta, Latin for chalk, because of the pallor of those affected.
- From cretira, Grisson-Romance creature, from Latin creatus.
- From cretine, French for alluvium (soil deposited by flowing water), an allusion to the suspected origin from inadequate soil.
- Source: VC Medvei. The History of Clinical Endocrinology. Pearl River, New York: Parthenon Publishing Group. 1993.
Cretinism due to congenital hypothyroidism
Congenital hypothyroidism can be endemic, genetic, or sporadic. If untreated, it results in mild to severe impairment of both physical and mental growth and development.
Poor length growth is apparent as early as the first year of life. Adult stature without treatment ranges from 1 to 1.6 meters, depending on severity, sex and other genetic factors. Bone maturation and puberty are severely delayed. Ovulation is impeded and infertility common.
Neurological impairment may be mild, with reduced muscle tone and coordination, or so severe that the person cannot stand or walk. Cognitive impairment may also range from mild to so severe that the person is nonverbal and dependent on others for basic care. Thought and reflexes are slower.
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