WOTD: intelligence quotient (IQ)

Today’s word is a number. More accurately it’s the score determined by one’s performance on a series of standarized tests designed to assess intelligence. The higher one’s IQ the more intelligent one is considered to be, at least according to the tests. Whether or not the IQ scale is an accurate or useful way of measuring actual intelligence is certainly debatable. There are many factors that make up intelligence and IQ tests assess only some of these.

Interestingly, the words idiot, imbecile, and moron were once associated with the IQ scale and were used by psychologists to describe those whom they considered to be “feeble-minded” or mentally retarded to varying degrees. The word “moron” for example, used to be the clinical term for someone who was “mildly-retarded,” and had an IQ of between 50 and 70.

Furthermore, the word “moron” is also strongly associated with the American Eugenics movement. Eugenics is the belief that certain characteristics can be intensified through “selective breeding.” Hypothetically, if a musically-proficient man and a musically-proficient woman have a child, then this child will be according to eugenics, a musical genius. However, it was also believed that certain negative characteristics could be eliminated using often draconian methods. People determined to be “morons” were discouraged from having children to prevent the creation of further morons. In some extreme cases, these “morons” were forcibly sterilised.

The Eugenics movement is a dark time in our history and the ideas and theories associated with it are now considered to be extraordinarily flawed, not to mention highly immoral. Thus, words like “moron” are no longer used by psychologists to describe people of low intelligence. Instead we use words like “dull.” Although, ironically the word “moron” actually means “dull” in Ancient Greek.

The modern IQ scale looks something like this:

Over 140 – Genius or almost genius
120 – 140 – Very superior intelligence
110 – 119 – Superior intelligence
90 – 109 – Average or normal intelligence
80 – 89 – Dullness
70 – 79 – Borderline deficiency in intelligence
Under 70 – Feeble-mindedness

On a final note, someone who possesses a high IQ and multiple university degrees can still be stupid. The following is an exchange between a doctor testifying as a witness in a court case, and the lawyer questioning him. Keep in mind that in order to become a lawyer one must study for many years, and then one must pass a very difficult exam.


  • Lawyer: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “Did you check for breathing?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “How can you be so sure, Doctor?”
  • Witness: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
  • Lawyer: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
  • Witness: “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”