It’s midnight, cretins

A few posts ago I mentioned a Christmas song which starts in its original language:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle.

Inevitably, I got thinking about cretins. There is a connection. Cretins are, quite literally, Christians.

Latin Christianus became old and middle French Chrestian, modern French Chrétien and English Christian. Along the way, children with congenital hypothyroidism were called Chrétiens, to emphasise their inherent worth despite their condition. In English, this became cretins, which word was then used to describe anyone of low intelligence or who you simply did not agree with. It is now not used medically, and hopefully less in its wider meaning.

I pronounce it as creh-tin, which is apparently the British pronunciation, compared with the American pronunciation of cree-tin, which sounds too much like Cretan to me. The original cretins weren’t Cretan; they were Christian.

I have a vague feeling that there’s an animated tv comedy (The Simpsons, The Family Guy?) in which two characters quibble about the pronunciation – one calls the other a creh-tin and is immediately taken to task for pronouncing cree-tin incorrectly – but I can’t immediately find it.

Not to be confused with the former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, who was a Chrétien and presumably a Christian, but not a cretin. The modern French word for cretin, by the way, is crétine (f)/crétin (m).


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