Semantic Insanity

Essay by HelioGracieUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2006

download word file, 6 pages 3.8

"Mad props! That trick you did was insane. You're the craziest of the crazy." "You've gone mad. You have spiraled into mental insanity. You're completely crazy and must be institutionalized." These two contrasting examples colorfully demonstrate the vast range of semantic meaning which can be used for words in the English language relating to mental insanity. Loony, Mad, Cuckoo, Insane, Crazy, Disturbed, Nuts, Deranged, Demented, Fanatic. Each of these terms has been at some point used in the English language to describe the condition of mental illness. The explanation for why the English language has so many terms to express what seems to be one idea is not at first apparent. Although it may at first appear that these words are identical in meaning, further consideration reveals that this is far from the case. While each word in this group can be taken to mean "mentally insane", each word has a different and unique way of expressing this idea.

Moreover, slang usage of many of the words in the "insane" grouping have thrusted many of these terms into a new and entirely different semantic realm. This paper will discuss the various terms within the "insane" grouping and the interesting semantic changes that they have encountered. Furthermore, the possible origin and causes of these semantic differences will be explored.

Perhaps the oldest word to describe one who is mentally ill in the English language is the word lunatic. The word was first used in the English Language in the 13th century. If we break the word apart, the prefix, lun refers to the moon and the suffix atic refers to a person. Thus, literally translated, lunatic means "moon person". This is due to the middle age wisdom that the moon caused abnormal, immoral or otherwise unacceptable behavior. According to the Oxford...