View Full Version : What is the difference between........

Tony Walker
02-10-2006, 2:54 PM
........ an imbecile and a lunatic?

My "relation" is classed as a lunatic - and I know he wasn't a pauper lunatic as his wife was living at the same time on the family farm, and the sons were working it.

But, on the same page on the census, most inmates were referred to as lunatics, but there was the odd imbecile noted.

Anyone explain the difference?


02-10-2006, 3:01 PM

This question was asked back in February.


Peter Goodey
02-10-2006, 4:05 PM
From among my snippings...

According to the 1881 Census Report;
"No accurate line of demarcation can be drawn between the several conditions indicated by these terms. Speaking generally, however, the term idiot is applied in popular usage simply to those who suffer from congenital mental deficiency, and the term imbecile to persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia. But it is certain that neither this nor any other definite distinction between the terms was rigorously observed in the schedules, and consequently no attempt has been made by us to separate imbeciles from idiots. The term lunatic also is used with some vagueness, and probably some persons suffering from congenital idiocy, and many more suffering from dementia, were returned under this name."

Considering that householders, who could be illiterate, were being asked to
give information about medical disabilities without any definition of the
terms being used the answers should be treated with caution. Also they would be unwilling to admit that anyone in the family had medical disabilities.

When ‘feeble-minded’ was substituted for ‘idiot’ in the 1901 census the
number of persons recorded with mental disability rose markedly, because,
apparently the former term was considered much less derogatory than the latter.

Tony Walker
02-10-2006, 4:50 PM
Christine & Peter,

Many thanks for your replies - I only just recently joined here and hadn't seen the previous thread, but very informative!

There is obviously a wealth of knowledge on here, and everyone I've talked to so far has been really helpful.

Thanks again - much appreciated