Thursday, March 31, 2016



A while ago, fellow writer and friend Angela Russell asked where we get the words we use to label our parents. Since this is a family-friendly blog, I’ve stuck with traditional words, leaving out those terms of non-endearment that might be used by children under duress.

Mother comes from the Old English word, modor, which comes from Proto-Germanic. Chances are good mother was born of ma, that first sound many babies make (many etymologists associate ma with suckling), paired with –ther, known as a kinship suffix (sometimes showing up as –ter).

That ma sound gave us most our words for mother. It seems almost all Indo-European languages have some form of ma or mamma:

Welsh: mam
French: maman
German: muhme
Greek: mamme
Persian, Russian, Lithuanian & others: mama

In 1844 in American English the word mommy grew out of mamma. And in 1867 mom was born of mommy. In Britain it seems mamma morphed first in to mummy in 1815, and then into mum by 1823.

And on to the dads.

In the 1200s the word sire appeared in English, meaning lord or liege. Within fifty years it came to also mean father.

The OId English word fæder came from Proto-Germanic and gave us our modern word father. Fæder ‘s original meanings included he who begets a child, nearest male relative, & supreme being. Other words that share father’s etymological lineage include:

Dutch: vader
German: vater
Gothic: atta
Old Irish: athir
Old Persian: pita
Sanskrit: pitar
Greek & Latin: pater

In multiple sources I find commentary that the word dad is thought to be “prehistoric” – far older than written records could possibly show. I am astounded to find no similar claims for mama, which forces me to question whether this mostly reflects solid research, or mostly reflects sexism. Hmmm. My musings notwithstanding, about 1500 the word daddy appeared.

The Old French word papa made its way into English in the 1680s. Americans shortened papa to pop in 1838.

Back in 1200 the term old man came to mean boss, father or husband, though it took until 1775 for old lady to come to mean mother or wife.

It was no surprise that I was unable to find the terms of endearment my sister & I used for our parents, Muz & Puz. This causes me to wonder whether other offspring labeled their parents in a similarly odd or unique fashion. Good readers, I’m hoping you’ll address these wonderings in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline,, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Final Craziness

Final Craziness

After three craziness posts (March 2, March 9 & March 16), here’s one more addressing words and terms we use to suggest someone is unhinged. Due to the abundant number, I’m skipping the word histories. And still, there are dozens more.

Late 1600s – to be half-baked
1810 – to have a screw loose
1850s – to be off one’s chump
Late 1800s – to be off one’s base,
Late 1800s - to be off one’s kadoova
Late 1800s -To not have all one’s buttons
Late 1800s – To slip a cog
Late 1800s – to be out of touch
1870 – to be off one’s conk
1890 – to be off one’s onion
Early 1900s - to be off one’s kazip
Early 1900s - to be off one’s bean,
1929 – To be round the bend (or around the bend)
1940s - to be off one’s nana
1950s - to be off one’s nob

Also, good friend and fellow writer Bruce West wrote in to remind me of two more:

The universal sign language of the index finger spinning at the temple, which Bruce points out was first reported in 1885 by Captain “White Hat” Clark of the US Cavalry when documenting the sign language of Native Americans.

Dinky dau, a term Bruce & his fellow Viet Nam vets brought home with them. The direct translation is crazy head, though dinky dau is used as a synonym for crazy.

Having so many ways to say crazy is, well, crazy! In the comments section, I’m hoping some of you might note the term above that most took you by surprise.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

More Craziness

More Craziness

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 3 post, then a few more in the March 10 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 – 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.

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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016



With the primaries in full swing, there is a lot going on. Some might say a lot of - craziness. So here’s a look at a small percentage of the many words and idioms we use to mean crazy.

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. Being whacked in the head could even knock someone off his nut. 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.