- "Loony" redirects here. For the Canadian 1 dollar coin (loonie), see Canadian 1 dollar coin. Or see Looney (disambiguation) or Luni (disambiguation).
"Lunatic" is an informal term referring to people who are considered mentally ill, dangerous, foolish or unpredictable; conditions once called lunacy. The term may be considered insulting in serious contexts, though is now more likely to be used in friendly jest. The word derives from lunaticus meaning "of the moon" or "moonstruck". The term was once commonly used in law.
The term lunatic derives from the Latin lunaticus which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and "madness" as diseases caused by the Moon. By the fourth and fifth centuries astrologers began to commonly use the term to refer to neurological and psychiatric diseases. Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full Moon induced insane individuals with bipolar disorder by providing light during nights which would otherwise have been dark, and affecting susceptible individuals through the well-known route of sleep deprivation. Through at least 1700 it was also a common belief that the Moon influenced fevers, rheumatism, episodes of epilepsy and other diseases.
Use of the term "lunatic" in legislation
In the British jurisdiction of England and Wales the Lunacy Acts 1890 - 1922 referred to lunatics, but the Mental Treatment Act 1930 changed the legal term to "Person of Unsound Mind", an expression which was replaced under the Mental Health Act 1959 by mental illness. "Person of unsound mind" was the term used in 1950 in the English version of the European Convention on Human Rights as one of the types of person who could be deprived of liberty by a judicial process. The 1930 act also replaced asylum with mental hospital. Criminal lunatics became Broadmoor patients in 1948 under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1947.
On December 5, 2012 the US House of Representatives passed legislation approved earlier by the US Senate removing the word "lunatic" from all federal laws in the United States. President Obama signed this legislation into law on December 28, 2012.
The term lunatic was also used by supporters of John Harrison and his marine chronometer method of determining longitude to refer to proponents of the Method of Lunar Distances, advanced by Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne.
- Sherman, Amy (17 December 2012). "Allen West said the House voted to remove the word 'lunatic' from federal law". PolitiFact. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
- Heydon, C. (1792). Astrology. The wisdom of Solomon in miniature, being a new doctrine of nativities, reduced to accuracy and certainty; ... Also, a curious collection of nativities, never before published. London: printed for A. Hamilton. ISBN 9781170010471.
- Riva, M. A.; Tremolizzo, L.; Spicci, M.; Ferrarese, C.; De Vito, G.; Cesana, G. C.; Sironi, V. A. (January 2011). "The Disease of the Moon: The Linguistic and Pathological Evolution of the English Term "Lunatic"". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 20 (1): 65–73. doi:10.1080/0964704X.2010.481101.
- The Moon and madness reconsidered Journal of Affective Disorders, June, 1999
- Harrison, Mark (2000). "From medical astrology to medical astronomy: sol-lunar and planetary theories of disease in British medicine, c. 1700–1850". The British Journal for the History of Science 33 (1): 25–48. doi:10.1017/S0007087499003854.
- "Statement by the Press Secretary on H.J. Res. 122, H.R. 3477, H.R. 3783, H.R. 3870, H.R. 3912, H.R. 5738, H.R. 5837, H.R. 5954, H.R. 6116, H.R. 6223, S. 285, S. 1379, S. 2170, S. 2367, S. 3193, S. 3311, S. 3315, S. 3564, and S. 3642". Office of the Press Secretary. The White House. December 28, 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- "Lunacy". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.
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