Thursday, March 10, 2016

Craziness #2

Craziness #2

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 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.

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.

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.


  1. My UK editor was so scornful when i wrote "balmy" for "barmy". (They do pronounce them the same.) But now I'll remember it means "beer head". Ha!

    I've heard that "lunatic" may also come from the French word "lune" meaning moon. This was supposedly because the full moon makes people loony. Maybe that's been debunked, but it's a good story.

    1. Hi Anne,
      Yes, indeed, the word lunatic comes through French & translates to "moonstruck". Thanks so much for coming by & having something to say. I suppose a visit to the bar for some barmy might be particularly nice if the day is balmy, eh?

  2. I haven't been by for a couple of weeks because my life has been a bit loony lately. You have to be mad as a hatter to do the kind of traveling and running around as I have been doing.

  3. Hey Christine - welcome back from The Land of Loony. May you feel as though life is as relaxing as a cold beer with a big, barmy head.