Lunatic is an antiquated term referring to a person who is seen as mentally ill, dangerous, foolish, or crazy—conditions once attributed to "lunacy." 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 word lunaticus, which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and madness, as diseases thought to be caused by the moon. The King James Version of the Bible records "lunatick" in the Gospel of Matthew which has been interpreted as a reference to epilepsy. By the fourth and fifth centuries[clarification needed], astrologers were commonly using 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.[clarification needed] Until 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 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 the term "asylum" with "mental hospital". Criminal lunatics became Broadmoor patients in 1948 under the National Health Service Act 1946.
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 Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Language Act of 2012 into law on December 28, 2012.
The term lunatic was sometimes used to describe those who sought to discover a reliable method of determining longitude (before John Harrison developed the marine chronometer method of determining longitude, the main theory was the Method of Lunar Distances, advanced by Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne). The artist William Hogarth portrayed a "longitude lunatic" in the eight scene of his 1733 work A Rake's Progress. Twenty years later, though, Hogarth described John Harrison's H-1 chronometer as "one of the most exquisite movements ever made."
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- Sherman, Amy (17 December 2012). "Allen West said the House voted to remove the word 'lunatic' from federal law". PolitiFact. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
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- Bunevicius, Genviliate, Pranas Deltuva, Tamasauskas, Adomas, Agne, Vytenis, Arimatas (2017). "The association between lunar phase and intracranial aneurysm rupture: Myth or reality? Own data and systematic review". BMC Neurology. 17 (99): 99. doi:10.1186/s12883-017-0879-1. PMC 5437543. PMID 28525979.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- 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. PMID 11624340.
- "An act to strike the word "lunatic" from Federal law, and for other purposes". United States Statutes at Large, 112th Congress, 2nd Session. 126: 1619–1620. December 28, 2012. Public Law 112–231. Retrieved March 11, 2020.
- "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.
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- Ian Wylie. "Coleridge and the Lunaticks". In Gravil, Richard; Lefebure, Molly (eds.). The Coleridge Connection: Essays for Thomas McFarland. 1990: Springer. pp. 25–26.CS1 maint: location (link)
- "Transactions and Proceedings". 22-25. Birmingham, England: Birmingham Archaeological Society. 1897: 26. Retrieved 3 February 2017. Cite journal requires
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