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Thread: Idiot or lunatic?

  1. #1
    Administrator Elaine ..Spain's Avatar
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    Idiot or lunatic?

    I downloaded some documents yesterday from the National Archives relating to an annual return from a Lunatic Asylum.
    There was one column which was entitled "Lunatic or Idiot" - with some names being shown as lunatic, others as idiot.

    What is the difference between lunatic and idiot?

  2. #2
    See Chapter I of "A practical treatise on the law concerning lunatics, idiots, and persons of ...Great Britain" 1833
    http://books.google.com/books?id=b5A...page&q&f=false

    It is discussed in legal terms with various definitions used in the 19th century.

    Have fun.
    Phil
    historyhouse.co.uk
    Essex - family and local history. Professional research undertaken at the Essex Record Office and online.

  3. #3
    Hi - this is useful as well http://studymore.org.uk/mhhglo.htm - has lots of info about asylums, workhouses etc etc in the 19th centur (lunatic is of unsound mind..idiot, a person of very low intelligence)

  4. #4
    Administrator Elaine ..Spain's Avatar
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    Thanks Phil and Naomi. I'll take a look at both links.

  5. #5
    Member Little Nell's Avatar
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    A lunatic is mentally ill (so theoretically can recover); an idiot is mentally handicapped. I think there's an exact IQ range for what were termed "idiots".
    ~ with love from Little Nell~
    Chowns, Dunt, Emms, Mealing, Purvey & Smoothy

  6. #6
    I once found someone described as 'idiot from birth' which I thought was very cruel, as well as non-PC.

  7. #7
    Hi there, I had a Great Uncle listed on the 1871 Census as an Imbecile aged 25yrs. then found him with his name misspelt on 81&91 housed at the District Asylum Godstone Surrey, he died in 1897 makes you wonder what sort of life he had in that place. Alan.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Velma Dinkley View Post
    I once found someone described as 'idiot from birth' which I thought was very cruel, as well as non-PC.
    It's just a word. It wouldn't have been "cruel" back in the day, it's the condition itself which is cruel and that doesn't change, however people try to wrap it up in euphemisms. Whatever words or phrases are chosen eventually become debased through being used as insults.

    It's true that there were fairly distinct definitions of imbecile, lunatic, idiot etc, but they're not much use in the censuses as the people giving the information may not have known the distinctions. However, a return from a Lunatic Asylum may be more reliable.

  9. #9
    Administrator Elaine ..Spain's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for the replies.

  10. #10
    I agree with Blackberry - I have one poor chap who is described variously as imbecile, idiot, lunatic........then he is miraculously cured and becomes a greengrocer, lol!

    Definitely the same person. I think his father may have been fed up of trying to describe his son's condition to nosey parkers, so for his final appearance on a census, he became "normal".

    OC

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