What’s an autodidact?

Word count: 242 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: autodidact.

Gun stories sadden me. Gun stories that occur on a university campus seem even more deplorable. New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe  tackles a particularly doleful tale with the saga of Amy Bishop in “A Loaded Gun.” A faculty member in biology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Bishop killed three fellow faculty members and injured three others in a 2010 gun rampage.

I’m not suggesting you read this story, if gun stories sicken you. I simply want to point out Keefe’s use of the word “autodidact.” I’ve always loved this word but never taken the time to explore its roots. Here’s how Keefe used it:

John Vincent Polio [a police chief] was something of an autodidact, and he had helped design the police station.

The noun is Greek in origin and dates back to 1746, from the word autodidaktos, meaning “self-taught.” If you saw the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting you may remember the character played by Matt Damon (pictured above). He was an autodidact. So is Dr. Spencer Reid (played by actor Matthew Gray Gubler) in the TV show Criminal Minds. The Reid character is not only an autodidact — he also has an eidetic memory, meaning he can remember almost everything he sees.

Scroll to Top