It’s sad social commentary that we English speakers have nearly an infinite number of ways to tell someone he or she is unbalanced. We looked at some in the March 25 post, then a few more in the April 1 post. And we continue...
The literal meaning of batty (full of bats) appeared in English in the 1580s. It took until 1903 for its figurative meaning to take hold. Batty, meaning nuts or crazy grew from the idiom to have bats in one’s belfry, an American phrase born just a decade before batty.
In 1861 the British established one of many military outposts in India. It was called Deolali, a local word for which I can’t find a definition. The story goes that after their tours of duty, soldiers sitting around at Deolali got a bit stir-crazy. And thus, in 1917, the word doolally was born, meaning crazy or eccentric.
Kooky is an American term that showed up in 1959. Though etymologists aren’t certain, kooky most likely came from an American twist on the word cuckoo, which initially (mid-1200s) referred to a bird with an annoyingly repetitive call. In the 1580s a British figurative form of cuckoo was born, meaning stupid person, a reflection of the never-changing nature of the call. Then in America in 1918, the crazy, unbalanced meaning of cuckoo came to life.
In 1705, the crazy-meaning buggy was born before the automotive buggy, though by all reports, the erratic behavior of early automobile drivers certainly could have inspired the crazy meaning of buggy. Truth is, nobody knows why buggy means unbalanced.
In 1610 the meaning of unsound mind was added to the existing word crazy, a word which first showed up in the 1570s, meaning diseased or sickly, & in only another ten years began to mean full of cracks or flaws.
Some crazy-based meanings & idioms include:
-1873 – to drive someone crazy
-1877 – Crazy Horse – A moniker I’ve always incorrectly assumed slapped the craziness on the Oglala Lakota leader who bore the name. In fact, a more accurate translation of Tȟašúŋke Witkó’s name is “His Horse is Crazy”.
-1927 – crazy - cool or exciting, from the world of jazz
-1935 – crazy like a fox
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all this craziness. If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Thesaurus.com, The Phrase Finder, Etymonline,Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
Though it shows poor form to question someone’s sanity, we English speakers have a steaming heap of ways to do just that. Last week’s post on synonyms for crazy didn’t even begin to plumb the depths, so here are some more.
In 1853 the American English word loony came to be. Though it was simply a shortening of the word lunatic, it may have been influenced by the wild, cackling call of the loon &/or its unlikely and mysterious manner of escaping danger. Loons can dive to depths of 200 feet & can stay underwater for up to three minutes – a crazy feat indeed.
In the 1300s the word daffe was used to mean half-witted. Daffe is the likely parent of daffy, which showed up in 1884. Daffy might alternatively have come from the word daft, which initially meant gentle & becoming, mild, well-mannered, & came from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to fit together. We can see this older meaning in the modern meaning of daft’s sister-word deft. Over the course of 300 years the well-mannered meaning of daft morphed to mean dull & awkward, then foolish, & then crazy.
Barmy comes from the alehouse. Barm is an Old English word meaning yeast, leaven or the head on a beer. In the 1530s the literal adjective barmy was born, meaning frothy. 1600 saw the birth of the figurative barmy, bubbling with excitement, & in 1892, a second figurative barmy began to mean foolish or crazy.
Mad made its way into English in the later 1200s, meaning out of one’s mind. It came through Proto-Germanic from the Proto-Indo European moito-, meaning to change. The angry meaning of mad showed up in the 1300s. Some mad idioms include: mad as a march hare (1520s), mad as a wet hen (1823), mad as a hatter (1829), & mad scientist (1891).
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all this madness. If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Wisconsin Natural Resources, & the OED.
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.
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.