The word “lunatic” removed from federal law

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 398 to 1 on December 5 to strike the word “lunatic” from federal law, a term deemed offensive by many people with mental illnesses.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a similar bill on May 23, which was sponsored by senators Kent Contrad (D-N.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). The bill, titled the 21st Century Language Act of 2012, now moves to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“The term ‘lunatic’ derives from the Latin word for moon,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said on the House floor, according to the Hill. “Before the modern era, it was used to describe a person who suffers from mental disease because of the belief that lunar cycles have an impact on brain function. But as science and medicine have progressed, society has come to understand mental illness with more clarity.”

The sole “no” vote came from Texas Rep. Louie Gohmer.

“Not only should we not eliminate the word ‘lunatic’ from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy, we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington,” Gohmert told Bloomberg News.

The bill comes two years after Congress approved Rosa’s Law, eliminating the use of the word “retarded” in federal law, in favor of the term “intellectual disability.”

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