In a Word: The Lunatic Moon

People long believed (and many still do) that a full moon causes all sorts of medical and mental trouble, and it’s reflected in our language.


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Strange things can — and often do — happen during a full moon. Ask any medical professional: Anecdotal evidence reinforces the idea that the night of a full moon is a busy time for hospitals. Women go into labor and give birth under odd circumstances, emergency rooms are flooded with bizarre injuries, and psychiatric wards run out of beds.

It isn’t a new phenomenon, either. People have long linked the full moon to all manner of strange and destructive behavior, from suicide and murder to madness and, of course, werewolves.

So it would only make sense that the word for such peculiar and seemingly widespread madness — such lunacy — should make a direct reference to the moon. And it does: Lunacy and lunatic derive from the Latin word for the moon, luna, making them etymologically related to the words lunar (“of or pertaining to the moon”), lunette (something shaped like a crescent moon), and clair de lune (French for “moonlight” and the title of a beautiful Debussy piano solo inspired by a Verlaine poem).

No one knows just why a full moon might lead to such a rise in strange behavior. In fact, a number of statistical studies have shown that there really is no correlation between the full moon and hospital admission and birth rates. (For dogs and cats, though, it’s a different story.)

But don’t tell that to the people who work in emergency rooms and maternity wards, who continue view the full moon as a harbinger of chaos. You don’t have to be in the medical profession long before you’ll have your own story of a weird, wild night at work that begins, “There was a full moon… ”

Featured image: Shutterstock.

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