early 15c., earlier asile (late 14c.), "place of refuge, sanctuary," from Latin asylum "sanctuary," from Greek asylon "refuge, fenced territory," noun use of neuter of asylos "inviolable, safe from violence," especially of persons seeking protection, from a- "without" (see a- (3)) + sylē "right of seizure," which is of unknown etymology.
Literally, "an inviolable place." Formerly a place where criminals and debtors sought shelter from justice and from which they could not be taken without sacrilege. General sense of "safe or secure place" is from 1640s; abstract sense "inviolable shelter, protection from pursuit or arrest" is from 1712. Meaning "benevolent institution to shelter some class of persons suffering social, mental, or bodily defects" is from 1773, originally of female orphans.
"to stuff with pads or padding, increase the amount of," 1827, from pad (n.). Of writing, "expand by insertion of extraneous matter," 1831; transferred to expense accounts, etc. by 1890. Related: Padded; padding. The idea of a padded cell in an asylum or prison (1862, padded room) is to prevent those inside from injuring themselves by dashing against the walls.
early 15c., penitenciarie, "place of punishment for offenses against the church," also "a priest appointed to administer the sacrament of penance," especially in extraordinary cases, from Medieval Latin penitentiaria, from fem. of penitentiarius (adj.) "of penance," from Latin paenitentia "penitence" (see penitence).
The meaning "house of correction, prison in which convicts are confined for punishment and reformation and compelled to labor" (originally an asylum for prostitutes) is from 1806, short for penitentiary house (1776). Slang shortening pen is attested from 1884.
As an adjective, from 1570s as "relating to penance," by 1791 as "expressive of contrition."
also loonie, looney, luny, "crazy; silly and eccentric," 1853, American English, short for lunatic, but also influenced by loon (n.2) and perhaps loon (n.1), the bird being noted for its wild cry and method of escaping from danger. As a noun by 1884, from the adjective.
Slang loony bin "insane asylum" is by 1909. Looney left in reference to holders of political views felt to be left-wing in the extreme is from 1977. Looney Tunes, Warner Bros. studios' animated cartoon series, dates from 1930.
"scene of mad confusion," 1660s, from colloquial pronunciation of "Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem" in London, founded 1247 as a priory, mentioned as a hospital 1330 and as a lunatic hospital 1402; it was converted to a civic lunatic asylum on dissolution of the monasteries in 1547. It was spelled Bedlem in a will from 1418, and Betleem is recorded as a spelling of Bethlehem in Judea from 971. The proper name might be caught in transition in the title of John Davies' 1617 publication of humorous poetry, "Wits bedlam —where is had, whipping-cheer, to cure the mad."
IT is often the case in the Penitentiary, as well as in the out side world, that men get "wheels in their head," and "talk through their hats." When a "boy" gets in this "offish" state the prisoners call him "buggy" he becomes a bug-a-boo, and to keep him safe so that he can hurt no one, nor destroy himself, he is duly examined, and when adjudged "bugy" is placed for safe keeping in the "Bug House." [Dan J. Morgan, "Historical Lights and Shadows of the Ohio Penitentiary," 1898]
1680s, "one who flees to a refuge or shelter or place of safety; one who in times of persecution or political disorder flees to a foreign country for safety," from French refugié, a noun use of the past participle of refugier "to take shelter, protect," from Old French refuge "hiding place," from Latin refugium "a taking refuge; place to flee back to," from re- "back" (see re-) + fugere "to flee" (see fugitive (adj.)) + -ium , neuter ending in a sense of "place for."
In English, the word was first applied to French Huguenots who fled persecution in their native country after the revocation (1685) of the Edict of Nantes. The word meant "one seeking asylum" until 1914, when it evolved to mean "one fleeing home" (first applied in this sense to civilians in Flanders heading west to escape fighting in World War I). In Australian slang from World War II, reffo.
1810, "delayed," past-participle adjective from retard (v.). In childhood development psychology, "mentally slow, lagging significantly in mental or educational progress," especially if due to some impairment, attested from 1895 (G.E. Shuttleworth, "late medical superintendent, Royal Albert Asylum, for idiots and imbeciles of the northern counties, Lancaster," perhaps inspired by Italian tardivi). Its application has shifted over the years based on what the progress or lack of it was measured against (peers, a score on IQ tests, etc.), but the progress gap was deemed "significant."
Fashions in labeling this group change almost from year to year; in the 1960s, mental retardation was the favorite appellation, and justifiably so in that it does not imply that inheritance or constitutional defects are always the cause of mental retardation. ["Campbell's Psychiatric Dictionary," 2004]