Title text: I looked up "insanity" in like 10 different dictionaries and none of them said anything like that. Neither did the DSM-4. But I'll keep looking. Maybe it's in the DSM-5!
In this comic White Hat quotes a famous "definition of insanity" (usually attributed to Albert Einstein, but may be a loose paraphrasing from Narcotics Anonymous) adapted by Rita Mae Brown or others historically.
Cueball's answer applies the quote to the action of quoting that quote. White Hat seems to have quoted that quote quite a few times already, expecting people to change their behavior which hasn't happened so far. So according to that definition of insanity, it is insane to keep quoting the definition of insanity, expecting people to change their behavior because of that.
Merriam-Webster defines "insane" as "mentally disabled."
The title text implies that Randall would be "insane" according to the quote he used in the comic because he has repeatedly searched for a definition of insanity that matches the one quotes in the comic and of course always gets a negative result, since this is a personal quote not a definition. Besides searching in lots of dictionaries, he also looked in the DSM-4 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition). The DSM-5 has been available since May 18, 2013 and he plans to look into it, expecting different results. Since he won't find it, he is from the quote insane, but of course since this turns out to not be the definition of insanity then he might not be anyway.
This comic follows a pattern similar to 1339: When You Assume.
- [Cueball is walking towards the right of the panel with White Hat walking behind him holding a finger up as to make a point.]
- White Hat: They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
- Cueball: You've been quoting that cliché for years. Has it convinced anyone to change their mind yet?
- Given that xkcd revolves around pedantics and precise syntax, it appears Randall made an error by citing "DSM-4", as there's no such thing. DSM-IV (1994) and DSM-IV-tr (2000) are editions prior to DSM-5 (2013). With that error, Randall missed a chance for a secondary implicit comment about "neurotic shrinks" turning the APA policy change to switch from Roman numerals to decimal digits with DSM-5 into a huge internal controversy, as well as comparing the xkcd text about rigid doctrinal hypocrisy to the social fluidity of indirectly legally defined so-called mental illnesses, when both DSM-III and DSM-IV have had interim text revisions.
- "Insanity" does not appear as a word in DSM-5, but appears twice in DSM-IV, once in DSM-IV-tr. One of those instances is a reference in the introduction only to early 19th century attempts to classify "idiocy/insanity", as a US Census statistical category, and not a medical one per se. The other, which was removed from DSM-IV-tr, isn't a clinical definition, but descriptive of fears due to hallucinogens, of "insanity or death". OED 3rd Edition (subscription online only) discusses archaic medical, literature, and legal meanings, from the 16th to 19th centuries, and sidenotes in red the caveat that the word first included in 1900 is overdue for updates not completed for the current edition of OED. Their definition is cited as based on archaic legal usage, not medical usage.
- There are over 100 instances of "insanity" present in each of "Black's Law Dictionary" (9th Ed), and "Gale (formerly West's) Encyclopedia of American Law" (3rd Ed). The APA (American Psychiatric Association) "Goldwater Rule" that stemmed from the former Presidential candidate bars members from making public statements about the apparent sanity or disorders of public figures they haven't personally examined, even if such lawyers or politicians appear to pose a serious risk of harm to others.
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