Three syllables or two?

I mean, YES, it is three: officially. So the dictionary says.

Still, how would you scan it in an iambic line? Or would it make a good trochee?

  • 3
    Idiots come with their paperback novels to bore us to tears with their garrulous speeches of nothing at all. Surely it's a dactyl. – Andrew Leach Jul 19 '18 at 18:56
  • It depends on your accent/dialect. Many an Irishman would say ‘eedyot’. But, as Andrew Leach says, in general it is dactyl. Though in Shakespeare’s Scottish play, Macbeth says: – Tuffy Jul 19 '18 at 19:01
  • 1
    Oops, slip of the thumb. “... It <life> is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.”. Try scanning that! – Tuffy Jul 19 '18 at 19:07
  • Depends on the poem – Mitch Jul 19 '18 at 19:49
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    As might be inferred from @Tuffy's comment, Shakespeare seems to have treated idiot as a trochee whenever he used it—two syllables with the accent on the first syllable. Robert Bridges, in his poem To Catullus has the line A rank musk-idiot, the filthiest skunk. This poem is in iambic pentameter, so idiot needs to be an amphimacer, with a stress on the first and last syllable. In real life it's a dactyl, but dactyls don't fit well into iambic meter. – Peter Shor Jul 19 '18 at 21:39

It may scan as either two or three syllables, according to the requirements of the meter.

If two syllables, the beat is on the 1st syllable.

If three syllables, the beat's are on the 1st & 3rd syllables, assuming it's a line of iambic meter. The 3rd syllable is destressed, but it is still a beat.

In this post I explain the principles by which words can be expanded, contracted or glided together: https://versemeter.wordpress.com/

Another thing to clarify is that although "idiot" scanned as two syllables is a trochaic word, that doesn't automatically make it a trochaic foot within a line of verse, as trochaic words and phrases frequently span the foot divisions. This is something I explore in the second half of this post: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-differences-between-iambic-and-trochaic-meters/answer/Keir-Fabian

In this post I provide a thorough explanation of the technical principles of iambic meter: https://www.quora.com/What-is-a-good-way-to-check-iambic-pentameter/answer/Keir-Fabian?share=01ae6686&srid=LqSx

  • IMHO, "idiot" is usually three syllables--"id-i-ot", but it can be just two, as "ih-jut" or "id-yot". You can take your choice. – tautophile Aug 1 '18 at 1:52
  • For metrical purposes it can just as easily count as either two or three. – Keir Fabian Aug 1 '18 at 2:53
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