That word, of course, is “insanity.” I am sure it would come as no surprise to most of you that, in 2004, insanity is considered a legal term. The Concise Medical Dictionary declares that insanity refers to, “A degree of mental illness such that the affected individual is not responsible for his actions or is not capable of entering into a legal contract. The term is a legal rather than a medical one.”11 Similar definitions can be found in other standard medical dictionaries as well as in dictionaries that are compiled for the general public. The more scholarly of these publications occasionally mention that the term once had a medical meaning, but quickly point out that such usage is obsolete. Legal dictionaries contain no such disclaimer. They embrace the word with little or no comment about its origins and often provide voluminous lists of cases and legislative pronouncements in which the meaning of insanity is made manifest.

“What’s in a Name?”: A Brief Foray into the History of Insanity in England and the United States by Janet A. Tighe, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, vol. 33, issue no. 2, pp. 253-258, 2005


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