“Suicide” is a modern concept. In English, the wording did not emerge before the 1650s and in the Romance languages not before the second half of the eighteenth century (“suicide” in French, “suicidio” in Italian). The invention of the latinized term mirrored less stringent criminal prosecution of self-killing, in the wake of harsher punishments and the creation of a statutory offense that had found their semantic expression in the nominalization of “self-murder” since the second half of the sixteenth century. The concept of “suicide”—as well as “Selbstentleibung” (“self-disembodiment”) in German—reflects a historical process of pathologizing and decriminalizing the act of taking one’s own life. However, regardless of new words, the social stigmatization of self-killing was not eliminated, but merely transformed. Criminal sanctions began to be abolished, but the a priori criticism of “self-murder” did not. In the eighteenth century, the traditional condemnation of self-killing, which had been based on religious and cosmological ideas, was turned into a moral one, in the specific Enlightenment sense of the term. What “self-murder” and “suicide” have in common is their denunciation of the act of killing oneself, not only in characterizing it as a crime, but also in pathologizing it as an expression of melancholic madness. In doing so, both of them have become key concepts for the emergent disciplines of moral statistics and suicidology in the nineteenth century and for the modern understanding of self-killing within the discourses of social science, psychology, and psychiatry.


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pp. 620-632
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