Eccentric first appeared in English in 1551 as an astronomical term meaning "a circle in which the earth, sun. etc. deviates from its center." Five years later, in 1556, an adjective form of the word was added. 129 years later, in 1685, the definition evolved from the literal to the figurative, and eccentric began being used to describe unconventional or odd behavior. A noun form of the word – a person who possesses and exhibits these unconventional or odd qualities/behaviors – didn't appear until 1832.
- b : deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways <an eccentric millionaire>
- b : located elsewhere than at the geometrical center; also : having the axis or support so located <an eccentric wheel>
In popular usage, eccentricity refers to unusual or odd behavior and "socially awkward" on the part of an individual. This behavior would typically be perceived as unusual or unnecessary, without being demonstrably maladaptive. Eccentricity is contrasted with "normal" behavior, the nearly universal means by which individuals in society solve given problems and pursue certain priorities in everyday life. People who consistently display benignly eccentric behavior are labeled as "eccentrics".
Depictions of eccentricity
Eccentricity is often associated with genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The individual's eccentric behavior is perceived to be the outward expression of his or her unique intelligence or creative impulse. In this vein, the eccentric's habits are incomprehensible not because they are illogical or the result of madness, but because they stem from a mind so original that it cannot be conformed to societal norms. English Utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill wrote that "the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained", and mourned a lack of eccentricity as "the chief danger of the time". Edith Sitwell wrote that eccentricity is "often a kind of innocent pride", also saying that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentrics because "they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."