There are conversations occurring these days regarding the appropriateness of using words like crazy in reference to our fellow human beings, however, with the pandemic & isolation & politics & all that's going on, it seems the world itself is a bit crazy. So here’s a look at a small percentage of the many words and idioms referring to craziness.
The word loop came from a Celtic word meaning bend. Its related adjective, loopy, entered the language in 1825. Loopy's literal meaning was full of loops & its figurative meaning was cunning & deceitful. In 1923 loopy picked up a second figurative meaning, crazy.
The Old English word hnutu, meaning hard seed, gave us the word nut. Its adjective form, nutty meant nut-like back in the 1400s, but by the 1800s nutty began meaning crazy. This started at a time when nut was a synonym for head. We still see that meaning in the idiom off one’s nut, which brings us back to ways of saying crazy.
Wacky, or whacky, was born in 1935 of the idea that anyone who’d been whacked in the head might get a little, well, loopy. Also from the notion of being whacked in the head, the word bonkers, meaning crazy, showed up in 1957. It seems to have sprung forth from its 1948 definition, a bit drunk.
One could say the history of the word unhinged is a bit unhinged. The earliest use of the term came from 1612 & oddly, was the figurative meaning, a disordered mind. It wasn’t until 1616 that someone wrote down unhinge in its literal sense, to remove a door from its hinges. Odder still, it took until 1758 for someone to write down the verb hinge.
Any thoughts on all this craziness? If so, please express yourself in the comments section. Also, feel free to suggest your favorite colorful synonyms for crazy. There are a bunch I haven’t yet covered.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
Edible idioms & edible euphemisms
I had enough fun with last week’s post to go a second week with food-related terms. Here’s hoping you’re having a good time with them, too.
The word giblets appears to have been constructed as a euphemism so people eating giblets wouldn’t be reminded they were eating the organs of a game bird, also known as offal (though we never see offal on the menu, do we?). Giblets comes from a French term that meant game stew, a word that has its roots in falcon-hunting.
And continuing in the world of euphemisms, who would sit down at an expensive restaurant and order swollen goose liver? There’s a reason restaurateurs embraced the French term pâté de foie gras.
Another food euphemism is sweetbread. This euphemism showed up in the 1560s. Isn’t it amazing diners are more likely to savor sweetbreads than the literal alternative – calf or lamb pancreas?
When something is sentimental or sappy, we might call it corny. This idiom made its debut in American English in 1932. It was preceded by the short-lived idiom corn-fed, which appears to have been – in part – a way for cityfolk to slander those who lived in the country.
In Britain in 1858 the word cheesy came to mean fine & showy, but forty years later in America the cheap or inferior meaning of cheesy was born. At the time, American university students were using the word cheese to label an ignorant person. Etymologists are pretty sure the American idiom cheesy was born of this put-down.
When our goose is cooked, our hopes are gone; we are finished. This idiom entered English in 1845. The story appears to be that any farmer scrabbling for a living would likely have a number of chickens, but only one goose. As times got harder & harder, the farmer might eat his chickens one by one. But it was a sure sign all hope was lost when he cooked his goose.
Any chance any of you want to add a food idiom or euphemism to the heap? If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Ralph Keyes’s Euphemania (2010 – Little Brown), & Webb Garrison’s Why You Say It (1992 - Thomas Nelson)
Here’s a brief collection of English idioms based on foods.
You don’t know beans!
This idiom seems to have shown up in the 1850s. Linguists pose two differing arguments for its source. One school suggests that because beans are both small & a basic food source, to not know beans is to not understand the simple basics of life. The second school cites a rural American riddle: How many blue beans does it take to make seven white beans? The answer is, (for those of you who don’t know beans) seven. To make blue beans white you simply peel off the skin. Apparently this was seen as common knowledge. Anyone who couldn’t answer the riddle didn’t know beans.
This is a tricky one because though it appears to a food-based-idiom, it isn’t.
It comes from the steamy kitchens of the American frontier. Those who did the laundry typically used lye soap (which wasn’t as effective as it might have been). When the clothes got too dingy, launderers of the day boiled them for an extended time with starch. Pieces of clothing that had received this treatment tended to be uncomfortably stiff, & were referred to as hard-boiled. At some point the term morphed to describe a person who was likely wearing over-starched clothing & shared that clothing’s characteristics of being unyielding and emotionless.
Fishing for information
This idiom was introduced by none other than Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. Historians tell us Chaucer was quite the fisherman (in the literal sense). The intimate nature of Canterbury Tales shows us he was apparently also gifted at fishing for information.
In 1934, Time magazine appears to have coined this idiom, & defined it to mean, “leg-pictures of sporty females.” Like many idioms, this one reflects its times. The “sporty females” photographed in Time magazine all had skin the color of cheesecake. Modern cheesecake shots do not discriminate in terms of skin color & generally involve exposure of more than the legs.
If it takes a little digging to see racist attitudes or flat-out racism reflected in the birth of the idiom cheesecake, seeing racism in the origins of the idiom ham takes no digging at all. The minstrel shows of the 1800s that often featured white actors in “black face” are responsible. Often, the makeup was removed by use of ham fat. It seems the use of ham fat in concert with the horrible acting based on racist stereotypes gave birth to the idiom.
Nothing like a food-based idiom, eh? I’m hoping you’ll have something to say about it all in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster,Dictionary.com, & Webb Garrison’s Why You Say It (1992 - Thomas Nelson)
After considering synonyms of whine for the 1/28/21 & 2/24/21 posts, we’ll take a look at words of the anti-whine variety. It’s tough to identify antonyms of whine, in part because a whine includes noise, attitude, & negativity. Sadly the following anti-whine words fall a little short of being true antonyms.
The word approve has been with us since 1300. It came through Old French from a Latin word meaning to assent to or regard as good. The Latin word approbare was constructed of the prefix ad- meaning to & the root probare, or prove.
The verb praise appeared in English about the same time, meaning to commend or flatter. Like approve, praise came through Old French from Latin. Its Latin grandmother, preciare, meant value or worth & is related to our modern words price & prize. It wasn’t until the late 1300s the word praise became associated with God.
The French word lauder, meaning praise or extol morphed in time into the English words laud & applaud. The former appeared in the late 1300s meaning to praise or commend & the latter a century later meaning to express agreement or clap the hands.
In the 1610s the verb compliment was born. Interestingly, the noun that predated it by about thirty years was defined to mean an expression of civility usually understood to include some hypocrisy, & to mean less than it declares.
Compliment came to English through French from Italian from Vulgar Latin.
I find it fascinating that these perfectly fine words with positive meanings aren’t nearly as much fun as whine, whinge & grouse. Any thoughts on that, dear readers?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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