If one were to open up a dictionary, it can be safely assumed that under “insanity” you will find “the state of being insane.”  Unfortunately, dictionaries only define root words because their respective writers are lazy bums.  Some, for your sake, let us start off with the definition of “insane.”  To be insane is to be considered “mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane (yes, they used the word in the definition).”  So, to sum things up, the definition of insanity is “the state of being mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane.”  If you looked up the definition for any of these words, I am equally sure that the word insane would be used in their as well.  Oddly enough, this cannot be blamed solely on the laziness of dictionary authors.

This word first came into use around 1580, being derived from the term insane, first coming into use in 1550.  These words were derived from the Latin phrases “Insanitatem” and “Insanus,” respectively.  Apparently, when people started acting, well, insane,m everybody thought “What the Hell do we call the nut jobs?” to which someone of slightly higher intelligence retorted “Apparently the Romans had a word for it, let us change the last few letters and use said phrase!”  This, of course, brings us back to the issue of insanity’s apparent (and yes, I have used this word three times in two sentences) lack of a definition.

Insanity – as well as sanity, for that matter – by it’s very nature is almost impossible to give a solid definition to.  There was once a definition, commonly quoted as insanity as “repeating the same act over and over again whilst expecting different results.”  For example, if somebody were to clasp there hands and ask a magic sky being to solve all of their problems everyday, even though they never saw results, they would be completely insane, as well as an idiot.  This definition, however, did not account for any outside factors that can make someone who constantly repeats an act completely sane.  In older times, insanity commonly referred to those who, by birth or through environment, lost all common sense.  Examples would be in Othello, where the titular character can be said to have gone insane after murdering his wife for reasons based purely on speculation.

Today, however, insanity has become more of a general terms for suffering a mental condition along the lines of schizophrenia, the multiple identity complex, or attending the Church of Scientology.  An example of this definition would be more like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, who has no regret or pity in committing deeds such as battery or rape for pure sportsmanship.  He would be insane because he has always lacked key features of human emotion and cognitive thought.  While not in a dictionary, this definition is definitely what most will assume you mean when speaking of “insanity.”

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1 Comment

  1. I hate when a word is used in a definition. I recognize this speaks to the preciseness in meaning, but I find this as circular logic.


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