Thursday, October 24, 2019

Language of Confusion: Crazy

Because… something.

Craze showed up in the late fourteenth century as a verb meaning to shatter, crush, or break into pieces, and not meaning insane until a century later, which is also when craze showed up as a noun (meaning to break down in health). Fun fact, the “break into pieces” definition really only survives in the term “crazy quilt”, a quilt made up of random pieces of fabric. As to why it was made a term for mental health… well, going crazy really does seem like a shattering of the mind. As for the origin of craze, no one really knows except that it might be Germanic or possibly Scandinavian (the Old Norse word for shatter is krasa). It also appeared in Old French as crasir, which exists in Modern French as écraser, to crush.

Fanatic showed up in the mid sixteenth century meaning insane person, coming from the classical Latin fanaticus, which generally just means fanatic. It’s from the word fanum, temple, and related to festus, holiday. Basically, if you were fanatical about something, you took celebrating it way too far. It’s also the probable origin of the word fan—as in, a fan of something—although that showed up in 1889 as a word for baseball enthusiasts.

Next today, eccentric. It showed up in the early fifteenth century as an old astronomy term meaning a “circle or orbit not having the Earth precisely at its center”. It actually didn’t mean an odd person until 1817! It comes from the Middle French eccentrique and Medieval Latin eccentricus, from the Greek ekkentros. That word was meant as the opposite of concentric (having the same center) and is a mix of ek—out—and kentroncenter. Eccentric is off of center.

I’m sure you’re all aware that lunatic is related to the moon. It’s kind of obvious. But let’s actually learn about the word, shall we? It showed up in the late thirteenth century meaning periodic insanity dependent on changes in the moon—that’s where the luna part comes from. The word itself is from the Old French lunatique, insane, and Late Latin lunaticus, moon-struck. Well, it’s still a sounder psychiatric theory than lobotomies.



  1. Changes in the moon - is lupine related then? (Thinking werewolf.)
    And these days, there are a lot of fanatics out there...

  2. I'm familiar with eccentric orbits. Since an eccentric person is a bit left of center (so to speak), that transition makes sense to me.

  3. I was also familiar with eccentric in the context of orbits.

  4. I want to make a joke about eccentric lunatics or something, but I'm a little crazed with all of the fanatical fire danger all around.


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