Idiot savant or savant syndrome

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The terms idiot savant and savant syndrome are psychological terms that refer to the same diagnosis, but one is preferred over the other. We will look at the definitions of the expressions idiot savant and savant syndrome, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

An idiot savant is a person with an intellectual deficit, but who is incredibly gifted in one area. This gift may be of a mathematical, spacial, musical, artistic or other type of talent, or may involve great feats of memory. The term idiot savant describes the person who is diagnosed with this phenomenon, and savant syndrome describes the particular mental state. Idiot savant is no longer used by most professionals, who prefer the simple term savant. One occasionally sees the term idiot savant used in a humorous way to describe someone who reveals an outstanding hidden talent. Idiot, imbecile and moron were once used as psychiatric labels to describe the degree of intellectual handicap a patient suffered from, this terms have fallen out of favor. The term idiot savant is derived from the French idiot savant which was coined in 1887 by John Langdon Down.


In 1988 I published a paper in The American Journal of Psychiatry: “The Idiot Savant: A Review of the Syndrome,” in which I suggested it was time to lay the term idiot savant to rest and substitute savant syndrome. (Scientific American)

“The rock star is some kind of primitive,” said former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, “An idiot savant who can’t really function in the world and would rather get onstage and do something wonderful and entertain people.” (Forbes Magazine)

Dr. Darold Treffert, a world-renowned autism and savant syndrome expert, will serve as a keynote speaker, followed by Phyllis Kupperman, founder of the Center for Speech & Language Disorders, who has written extensively on hyperlexia and serves as an advocate for the development of effective treatments for children with a variety of speech and language disorders. (The Fond du Lac Reporter)