Congress Ousts Lunatics. Idiots Remain

Rather than cut “lunatic” from U.S. law, “we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington” —GOP Representative Louie Gohmert (Tex.), the only House member to vote against the bill Photograph by Scott J. Ferrell/Getty Images

While they dithered over spending, members of Congress found time on Dec. 5 to settle a less urgent matter: purging the word “lunatic” from the federal law books. The government precisely defines the terms it uses in laws, and since 1947 the first paragraph of the federal code has described insanity this way: “the words ‘insane’ and ‘insane person’ and ‘lunatic’ shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis.” At the urging of psychologists, who argued the definition is outdated and offensive, Congress voted to strike the word from the code. The rest of the language remains as is. So, according to U.S. law, the mentally ill can no longer be called lunatics. They can, however, still be called idiots.

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