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[im-buh-sil, -suh l or, esp. British, -seel] /ˈɪm bə sɪl, -səl or, esp. British, -ˌsil/
Informal. a dunce; blockhead; dolt:
Don't stand there like an imbecile. Open the door!.
Psychology. (no longer in technical use; now considered offensive) a person of the second order in a former and discarded classification of mental retardation, above the level of idiocy, having a mental age of seven or eight years and an intelligence quotient of 25 to 50.
Informal. stupid; silly; absurd.
Usually Offensive. showing mental feebleness or incapacity.
Archaic. weak or feeble.
Origin of imbecile
1540-50; earlier imbecill < Latin imbēcillus weak; -ile replacing -ill by confusion with suffix -ile
Related forms
imbecilic, adjective
imbecilely, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for imbecile
Historical Examples
  • Fra Silvestro, the imbecile, was the first taken to the scaffold.

    The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky
  • I do not know whose heads are criminal, but I think I know whose are imbecile.

    Alarms and Discursions G. K. Chesterton
  • He shook his head, as one who listens to the vaporings of an imbecile, but turned to obey.

  • A man, aged 22, the son of an inebriate, with one imbecile sister.

    The Sexual Question August Forel
  • You may think that I had been singularly lacking in suspiciousness; you may consider me even to have been an imbecile.

    The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
  • He spent a whole evening measuring this imbecile's facial angle.

  • Rocking from side to side, reeling across the road and back, trumpeting in imbecile inexpressive tones, Zenobia advanced.

    Short Sixes H. C. Bunner
  • He flew into a passion, disowned his discovery, and called himself an imbecile.

    Doctor Pascal Emile Zola
  • You tried to fix it on the imbecile because you knew that he could not suffer.

  • He did not answer, but the other imbecile, Josiah, answered for him.

    Fair Harbor Joseph Crosby Lincoln
British Dictionary definitions for imbecile


noun (ˈɪmbɪˌsiːl; -ˌsaɪl)
(psychol) a person of very low intelligence (IQ of 25 to 50), usually capable only of guarding himself against danger and of performing simple mechanical tasks under supervision
(informal) an extremely stupid person; dolt
of or like an imbecile; mentally deficient; feeble-minded
stupid or senseless: an imbecile thing to do
Derived Forms
imbecilely, imbecilically, adverb
imbecility, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Latin imbēcillus feeble (physically or mentally)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for imbecile

1540s, imbecille "weak, feeble" (especially in reference to the body), from Middle French imbecile (15c.), from Latin imbecillus "weak, feeble" (see imbecility). Sense shifted to mental weakness from mid-18c. As a noun, "feeble-minded person," it is attested from 1802. Traditionally an adult with a mental age of roughly 6 to 9 (above an idiot but beneath a moron).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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imbecile in Medicine

imbecile im·be·cile (ĭm'bə-sĭl, -səl)
A person of moderate to severe mental retardation having a mental age of from three to seven years and generally being capable of some degree of communication and performance of simple tasks under supervision. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive.

im'be·cil'i·ty (-sĭl'ĭ·tē) n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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