Many of us have come across records of someone being declared an idiot or lunatic and perhaps placed in an asylum. What do the terms mean and how do they differ?
The words "idiot" and "lunatic" are often used to denote the same medical condition, but the meanings are not the same. According to Compendium of the Common Law in Force in Kentucky by Charles Humphreys, 1822, pages 125-126, "Idiots are persons of unsound minds from their birth. Lunatics are those who become insane by some infirmity after birth."
It goes on to say that "A man is not an idiot if he has any glimmering of reasons, so that he can tell his parents his age ... But one born deaf, dumb and blind is considered in the same state as an idiot.
"A lunatic is one who has his reason impaired by some infirmity and ... only occasionally in that condition, having lucid intervals, sometimes depending on the change of the moon. However, the word lunatic includes all person who become incapable, by any impairment of mind, of conducting their own affairs."
Published 27 December 2013, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, http://wkygenealogy.blogspot.com/