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The shocking, forgotten history of cretinism

bigthink.com • February 11, 2020

How do you make Captain Haddock swear like the drunken sailor he is, without R-rating the comic that stars his much milder-mannered friend Tintin?

Eventually Hergé, Tintin's spiritual father, found the answer. Whenever Haddock verbally exploded, his stream of invective was colorful rather than off-color. The captain merely shouted scientific and esoteric terms at the victims of his frequent displeasure.

So when Haddock let out "crétin des Alpes" ('Alpine cretin') in the original French-language version of The Seven Crystal Balls (serialised from 1943), the expression was sufficiently obscure to be inoffensive, its topographic specificity only adding to the humorous effect (1).

Yet the word 'cretin' has a very real, very shocking and at that time still very recent history, and indeed a link to the Alps. When Haddock used the term, the age-old blight of cretinism had been erased only a few decades earlier. But the relative isolation of the sufferers, and the pitiful nature of their suffering, had already wiped the disease from public memory.

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