I’ve been a little off this week so having the Word Wednesday deadline looming in front of me is giving me the incentive I need to write. (On a side note the word deadline is actually rooted in military history. During the American Civil War prisoners were often held in areas where there were no physical buildings in which to secure them. In such cases the captors would draw a circle around the prisoner and should the prisoner step on, across or too close to this line they would be shot dead. Hence it became known as a “deadline”.)
I decided to continue on the “lunatic” vein from last week and look at the word “loony” (please note we are not discussing the Canadian one dollar coin). Loony, also seen as “looney”, is a shortened form of lunatic. Lunatic is rooted in the Latin, luna (moon), and is indicative of the belief that individuals who suffer from mental illness have mood swings or shifts in concordance with the phases of the moon. As mentioned in last week’s blog modern science debunks this concept, but there are those, myself included, who believe lunar cycles do indeed influence both man and beast (one reader sent me a lovely email detailing some of the beliefs surrounding the moon cycles and how you can tap into that energy for positive results).
However, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “loony” also has provincial roots. Ontario’s Provincial bird, the common loon, is known for it’s wild and mournful cry and its method of escaping danger. When in danger a loon will dart around erratically in an attempt to confuse its pursuer until it dives into the water and resurfaces some distance away. If still being pursued the loon will continue its peculiar dance until it is safe. This also defines the term “crazier than a loon”.
Since we’re already digging into the depths of the word “loony” we may as well wrap it up with the origins of “loony bin” and “loony tunes” when used in reference to the world of mental health. “Loony bin”, in reference to a mental hospital or insane asylum, was first used in 1919 – loony has been already been defined and bin refers to a cell as per Answers.com. So the term in full means “a room/cell for the mental ill”.
Saying someone is “looney tunes” is a direct reference to Warner Brothers’ infamous series of cartoon shorts Looney Tunes (sometimes known as Merrie Melodies). Characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy (meaning crazy or foolish; from Merriam-Webster) Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and many others were depicted in various settings behaving foolishly and often maniacally. Even though Bugs and friends made were first introduced to North American audiences in the 1930s the term “looney tunes” wasn’t used to reference the mentally ill until 1971, almost 40 years after their initial appearance.
I don’t know about you, readers, but I learned a great deal today while researching for this blog. Hope you enjoyed it! I have many more personal blogs buzzing around in my brain and as soon as I can organize some of those thoughts you can except more tales from the Madhouse. But for now “That’s all folks!”