Homunculus is our word of the week. It comes from Latin and generally means “Little Man.” Some translate it as “Little Person” which has become an emotionally charged term. Many see “Little Person” as condescending while others feel it empowers them. The Midget/Little Person issue has caused an outsized sense of consternation. Like many ‘politically correct’ terms, “Little Person” is a clunky alternative. The options for the plural often overwhelm. “Little Persons” and “Little People” are both acceptable English variations. Use of either term often leads to confusion as to which might be more acceptable. With no clear agreement, a neutral alternative was needed. Homunculus is a centuries old word with a variety of applications. Because of its Latin origin, homunculus has a more scientific or medical ring to it. The term has gained wider use in recent years. It often replaces both ‘midget’ and ‘little person’ in spoken and written communication.
Babies in Medieval religious art were often depicted as small, diminutive men. To modern eyes they are “Super Ugly Medieval Babies.” Its acronym, ‘Sumba’ or ‘FMB” (Fugly Medieval Baby) can be seen all over the Internet and especially social media.
Medieval philosophers explored the ideas that informed the arts of their era. Religious scholars took up their idea that Jesus Christ was born perfect. By logical extension they claimed Jesus was fully formed and unchanged. With that ideology, it made perfect sense to depict the baby Jesus just as one would the adult Jesus. They applied the same concepts to other religious imagery. Younger versions of saints therefore look like medieval old men.
Word Origin and History for homunculus.
1650s, from Latin homunculus, literally “little person.” It comes from homo (genitive hominis) “man, human being.” The Latin word hominis means “man, person, a human being.” Technically it means, “male human,” but in logical and scholastic writing “human being.” It has also come to mean, “the human race, or mankind.”
The Latin suffix -culus indicates a diminutive form which translates as “little,” “young,” or “small.”