‘loony doctor’: meaning and origin

The expression loony doctor is a facetious appellation for a medical practitioner specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

A shortened form of lunaticloony (also looneyluny) means:
– as a noun: a person who is mentally illan extremely foolish or eccentric person;
– as an adjective: mentally illextremely foolish or eccentric.

—Cf. loony bin, a facetious appellation for a home or hospital for people with mental illnesses.
—Cf. also the men in (the) white coats, denoting psychiatrists or psychiatric workers.




1-: As in the case of the expression loony bin, the earliest occurrences of loony doctor that I have found are from stories by the English author Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975):

1.1-: From The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy, a short story first published in The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia: The Curtis Publishing Company) of 27th September 1924 1:

“Well, you see, old Sir Roderick 2, who’s a loony-doctor and nothing but a loony-doctor, however much you may call him a nerve specialist, discovered that there was a modicum of insanity in my family. Nothing serious. Just one of my uncles. Used to keep rabbits in his bedroom. And the old boy came to lunch here to give me the once-over, and Jeeves arranged matters so that he went away firmly convinced that I was off my onion.”

1 This short story was also published in The Strand Magazine (London, England) of October 1924, and included in Carry on, Jeeves (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1925).
2 Sir Roderick Glossop, a prominent psychiatrist, is a recurring character in P. G. Wodehouse’s stories.

1.2-: From Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit—as published in The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) of 14th December 1929:

This Glossop was a formidable old bird with a bald head and outsize eyebrows, by profession a loony-doctor. How it happened, I couldn’t tell you to this day, but I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rock-bound coast. The fixture was scratched, owing to events occurring which convinced the old boy that I was off my napper; and since then he has always had my name at the top of his list of Loonies I have Lunched With.

1.3-: From Big Money—as published in the Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) of 13th October 1931:

“Biscuit,” said Berry. “The most extraordinary thing has happened. There’s a girl—”
“A girl, eh?” said the Biscuit, interested. He began to see daylight. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where does she live?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where did you meet her?” asked the Biscuit.
“I saw her first across a restaurant.”
“We looked at one another a good deal. It was that day you wearing that beard, Biscuit. You remember?”
“I remember.”
“I felt absolutely desperate. I knew just by looking at her, that I had found the only girl I should ever love. And how on earth was I to get to know her? That was the problem.”
“It always is. I wish I had a quid for every time—”
“When I came out into the street, I saw her getting into her car. And suddenly I had an inspiration. I jumped in after her and told her to follow you.”
“Follow me? How do you mean, me? How do I come into it?”
“You were in your car just ahead.”
The Biscuit’s interest deepened.
“You jumped into her car. What happened then?”
“You drove off, and we drove after you.”
“You mean she just said, ‘Yes sir!’ and trod on the self-starter? I should have thought she would call a cop and two loony doctors.”

2-: The expression loony doctor was applied to the Irish athlete and psychiatrist Patrick O’Callaghan (1906-1991):

2.1-: In an article about the Irish athletes competing in the 1932 Summer Olympics, held from 30th July to 14th August 1932 in Los Angeles, California—article by Ralph Huston, published in the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of 2nd August 1932:

Leading the uproarious shouts is Robert Morgan [misprint for ‘Morton’] Newburgh Tisdall 3, fresh and cean [sic] again after his mighty victory in the hurdles. He’s beaten the world, and he’s run the event only six times in his life. But all he can do, all he can think of is Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan. He’s a fightin’ man.
“A doctor of what?” sezzi.
“A loony doctor, to be sure,” sezze, “and by St. Patrick we should all be his patients now!”

3 Robert Morton Newburgh Tisdall (1907-2004) was an Irish athlete.

2.2-: In “a list gathered at random of Olympic athletes and their occupations”, by Irving Eckhoff, published in the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of 14th August 1932:

Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan (Ireland,) psychiatrist, polite name for “looney” doctor.

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