Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crazy for Synonyms for Insane

For some reason, there are far more words for the insane than we probably need. They say Eskimos have 26 words for snow; we have more than that for the psychotic. They have different kinds of snow, we have different kinds of psychos, some dangerous, some fun, some eccentric. Euphemisms, like “not playing with a full deck”, follow the synonyms.

A – Aberrant, abnormal
B – Bent, berserk, bonkers, bananas, batty
C – Crazy, cracked, certifiable, cuckoo
D – Daffy, demented, deranged, disturbed, delirious, demonic
E – Eccentric, extreme
F – Flaky, fanatical, Freudian, flipped
G – Goofy, gone, ga-ga
H – Hysterical, haywire
I – Insane
J – Janus, juiced
K – Kooky
L – Looney, lunatic, loco
M – Mad, mental, maniacal, multiple-personality
N – Nuts
O – Odd, off
P – Psychotic, peculiar, perverted, possessed
Q – Quixotic, quirky, quack
R – Remedial
S – Screwy, schizo, split
T – Tilted, troubled
U – Unbalanced, unhinged, unintelligible
V – Void
W – Wacky, withdrawn
X – Xenophobic (ok, so I'm stretching!)
Y – Yahoo, ya-ya
Z – Zany

There’s also the fun crazies who are: madcap, frivolous, ditzy, saucy, topsy-turvy, wild… and from above: wacky, and zany – these are harmless crazies you’d like to hang out with.

People who are bonkers can be these nouns: card, pistol, loon, cuckoo, nutcase, case study, crackers, bananas, bats, fruitcake.

They can be doing other things: out to lunch, waiting for the wagon (men in white coats), zoning out, losing their marbles, flying high, marching to a different drummer, coming from left field, going solo… even "talking to God" (normal for some but don't tell the shrink, or you may be "certifiable")

There’s been a lengthy list of mental euphemisms circulating on the net since the 80’s called “full deck-isms” (someone didn’t know the word euphemism). Of the thousand or so entries, these are the more humorous entries.

He’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
He couldn’t pour water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel.
He doesn’t just “know nothing”; he doesn’t even suspect anything.
He has a one-way ticket on the Disoriented Express.
He fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.
He’s so dense that light bends around him. [Quantum physics joke]
I’d like to buy him for what’s he’s worth, and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.
If he gets any denser, the geocentric theory of the universe will come true.
If what you don’t know can’t hurt you, he’s practically invulnerable.
If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.
He is living proof that nature does not abhor a vacuum.
He is proof that evolution actually can go in reverse.
If he raced fifty yards with a pregnant woman, he’d come in third.
He’s so thick that mind readers charge him half price.
She suffers from Clue Deficit Disorder.
The twinkle in his eyes is actually the sun shining through his ears.
He’s unclear which of Newton’s three laws keeps his ears apart.
He’s as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

Here are some new ones that I’ve added:
From Anthony Weller’s book The Siege of Salt Cove: “His boots are not laced all the way to the top.”
From jazz-blues singer Mose Allison: “His mind is on vacation and his mouth is working overtime.”
From Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden: “All in my head? Well, you can look up there all you want and you know what you’ll find? Nothing!”

_____________ (c)2009, William L. Sinclair ____________

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word Origins You Never Knew

It's pandemonium in bedlam!

Adam’s apple -– a bit of the “forbidden apple” that stuck in Adam’s throat; there’s no mythological explanation why Eve doesn’t also share this “piece of the fruit”.
Bedlam – in 1402, St. Mary of Bethlehem in London became a lockup for the insane; cockneys corrupted Bethlehem into “bedlam”, which came to mean any madhouse or “scene of utter confusion”. Tom and/or Bess O’Bedlam are wandering lunatics.
Berserk – named for an 8th century Norse hero, who wore bearskins (berserk) that he wore into battle, which he supposedly fought with reckless fury; his sons were known as Berserkers, a name later used for a class or warriors, and much later, a science fiction series from the 1960’s. Means “to go into a frenzy or rage.”
Bevinism – a mixed or confused metaphor; from Ernest Bevin, British cabinet minister after the war, who said “If you open Pandora’s Box, you’ll find it full of Trojan horses.” Led to Golwynism after movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn said “an oral contract is not worth the paper its printed on”.
Booze – a Col. E.G. Booze sold whiskey in log cabin shaped bottles; became popular during Tyler’s presidential campaign; has become a name for cheap hard liquor.
Boycott – named for Capt. Charles Boycott, a land agent in Ireland who refused to lower rents after a disastrous harvest and attempted to evict tenants. His servants departed and no one would sell him food; he gave up and returned to England and his name means “to abstain in dealings with, in an effort to coerce or intimidate”.
Chauvinism – for Nicholas Chauvin, soldier of the 1st Rep. of France; famous for patriotism and adoration of Napolean; his name was used in a popular play and became a byword, but for bigotry and prejudice.
Comic / comical (and coma) – from Comus, Roman god of “festive mirth”. The god was often found in a “drunken stupor”, giving us also the word coma.
Criss-cross – short for "Christ on the cross" - when you made "your mark", it wasn't an X, but a criss-cross, or you were "swearing to Christ" that this was your mark.
Curfew – from the French covre-feu, or “cover fire”, the time when lights were to be put out, after ringing of the evening bell. Brought to England after the Norman conquest.
Denim – named because it was imported from de Nimes in France, a manufacturing center before the French Revolution. “Fiddle-de-dee” – from Italian Fedidio, Fe di Dio, “by the faith of God”; has come to mean “nonsense”, a dismissal of what the other person has to say.
Dollar – a coin minted from a rich silver mine near Prague was called a Joachimsthaler, then a Thaler, which became “dollar” in English; means “from the valley”.
Expedite – from Saint Expeditus, advocate of urgent causes; supposedly a Roman soldier martyred in Armenia in the 4th century
Fantasy – Roman god of sleep Somnus (also called Hypnos) had an assistant was called Phantasus, who tricked people into sleep with hallucinatons or fantasies.
Ferris wheel – a giant wheel with passengers built for the Chicago Exposition of 1893 by a “tinkerer” from Galesburg, Illinois named G.W. Gale Ferris.
Frank – now means candor; from the Franks, named for their weapon, frankon or “spear”; originally nobles meant “free men”, hence frank became synonymous with free noblemen.
Gaga – “mentally unbalanced”; from paintings of Paul Gauguin, who some saw as evidence of an unbalanced mind! In French it means “foolish old man”.
Gerrymander – is to unfairly redivide a district to give someone an unfair advantage in an election. From Eldridge Gerry, when governor of Massachusetts redivided the state’s districts; an opponent said “it looked like a salamander”, and anti-Gerry news editor Benjamin Russell said, “make it a Gerrymander!” and the name stuck.
G.I. -– US military soldiers; first called Government Issue Joes, then G.I. Joes, then finally just “G.I.’s”.
Goodbye – originally a contraction of “God be with ye”
Googol (now commonly spelled “Google”) – this was actually invented in 1940 by a 9 yr old nephew of a mathmatics professor (Dr. Kasner) to describe a huge number, 10 to the hundredth power. First thought to have come from sounds, “goo” being a messy substance enjoyed by kids; later thought to have come from the comic character Barney Google.
Gossamer – from the British, goose summer, the time in fall to eat the fatted goose; a.k.a. “Indian summer”. Spider webs during this time are said to “glisten with dew”, so it now applies to thin or translucent material.
Gun – originally for cannon, later small arms. Both gunn and hilda mean “war” in Norwegian; likely from female name Gunnhilda; in 1431, a war inventory list for Windsor Castle lists a “missile thrower named Lady Gunnhilda”.
Hocus-pocus – from the Latin chant “hoc est corpus Domini”, from communion Mass; it now means “nonsense” and is a takeoff on the religious phrase. A playground variation is “hocus pocus dominocus”. From these come hoax (ruse or practical joke) and hokum (fakery), and hokey-pokey (a kid’s song and dance, "that's what it's all about").
Hoodlum – likely a Cockneyed “back-spelling” of Muldoon (“noodlum” became “hoodlum”); this was a common Cockney practice: police became ecilop, then slop.
January – Saturn ruled Italy with Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings, looking both forward and backward. Also led to janitor.
Lush – (as related to drinking) a reference to the drinking club “The City of Lushington”, formed in 1750, for hard drinkers. Also Irish slang for “to eat and drink”.
Mafia – this is a reversal, a capitalized word from a common noun, the Arabic mahyah for “boasting”; came to mean “lawlessness” in Sicilian, later used by the underground terrorist organization, now a worldwide crime cartel.
Maverick – usually means “unbranded animal, particularly a calf”; from Samuel Maverick, a 19th century Texas banker who had to take a herd of cattle as payment, but had no land; he leased an island in the Nuecces River, but in winter or at low water, the unbranded cattle would wander onto neighboring ranchland, causing the remark “there goes another Maverick”.
Money – from Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess Juno when presiding over the Roman temple where coins were minted; Moneta became the name for the coinage, then a synonym for “money”; Moneta’s Temple became mint.
Monkey wrench – type of wrench invented in 1856 by a Yankee named Monk, employed by Bemis and Call in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Nightmare – Mara was a Scandanavian demon that inspired fear, horror, and distress.
Opportune -– Portunus was the Roman god that protected harbors (portus). Ob means “before”, and opportune means “seasonable or timely”. Opportunity is a “time or place favorable for a purpose.”
Pandemonium – in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, it’s the capital of Hell and site of Satan’s palace; from Greek pan (“all”) and daimon (“demon”). Now means “wild uproar, infernal noise, or wildly lawless or riotous place”.
Panic – is from the God Pan, god of nature and wilderness, also god of pastures and animals; the name means “everywhere”. (a god being ‘everywhere’ sends men into a panic…)
Pell-mell - meaning “reckless confusion or headlong”. Named for Pall Mall, the London center of clubs in the 16th century; the game was similar to croquet, but the players all rushed heedlessly to strike the ball, leading to the expression.
Podunk – the name of a small Algonquin tribe on the Podunk river in Connecticut; now means “small town.”
Posh – originally P.O.S.H., a steamer ticket abbreviation meaning “Port out, starboard home”, for the English passengers on ships to India who wished to be opposite the sun in each direction during the trip
Romance – means “made in the Roman manner”, or romanesque. Rome also gave its name to Romaine lettuce, and the French romier (pilgrim to Rome) led to roam. In slang, Rome means anything large or great.
Sandwich – named for the corrupt 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu (1718-1792); two or more slices of bread enclosing a thin layer of meat or cheese; John consumed these while gambling without having to stop playing; he copied the habit from the Romans.
Silhouette – for Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), Controller General of France, taxed people so heavily he had to resign; his hobby became cutting portrait profiles out of black paper; taken as symbols of his stinginess, they were given his name.
Sophomore / sophisticated – the Sophists (5th cen. B.C.) derived their name from the Greek for “skilled” or “clever”; first to offer systematic education, later disparaged for oversubtle, self-serving reasoning. Sophomore means “wise fool”, and Sophie means “wise woman”.
Sorcerer – Sors was the Greek god of change; French was sorcier, which became sorcerer in English, meaning “magician or wizard”. Sort also came from Sors.
Teddy bear – plush child’s toy in the shape of a bear, named for President Teddy Roosevelt, likely for his penchant for hunting. Said to have been named just after he refused to shoot a baby bear
Tontine – a form of annuity, in which shares from each deceased “member” are added to the groups until the last survivor “inherits them all”; devised by a Neapolitan banker named Lorenzo Tonti.
Ukulele – Hawaiin for “little flea”, the nickname of its inventor, Edward Putvis, a British officer who played the instrument rapidly, like “little fleas dancing” on the strings.
Upside down – a “state of disorder”, formerly “upsedown”, also “topsy-turvy”. From the time of Queen Elizabeth, no one knows the origins.
Valentine – supposedly from Saint Valentine (there are three on record – sometimes ‘your name gets you in’!); legend has it he made secret gifts to the poor (not to ‘fantasy loves’). It’s likely just coincidence that the saint’s day falls in early spring as well as the ‘lover’s festival’.