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50 Crazy Ways to Call Someone Mad

A Writer’s List of Words and Phrases to Describe Insanity

Alabama Insane Hospital 1907 - Unknown

You need a good way to describe someone as barking. Many English cliches & expressions describe somebody others call mad. Some terms are funny; others cruel.

In writing, any author is bound eventually to need to describe a character who is regarded as off the wall. People often account for the behaviour of themselves or others, as a moment of madness. But what is it? It’s a relatively permanent mind disorder. In North America ‘mad’ is a way of describing anger or irritation, but that is not common usage in most parts of the English speaking world..

Lunacy and Insanity Describe Madness

Lunacy is an obsolete legal definition for insanity. It stemmed originally from the moon (lunar): howling or baying at a full moon like a mad or rabid dog or wolf. This, in turn, probably led to the expression barking mad. A loony-bin is a popular word for a mental asylum, and funny farm is another which gave rise to – ‘call the farm; tell them a turnip is missing’.

To describe someone or their activities as manic or demented is a slight twist on the madness theme. A manic episode may be evidence of what is now called bipolar disorder, but in the past manic behaviour was a descriptor of insanity.

Albert Einstein is one of many people credited with describing insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Insanity is better described as mental illness or derangement. From it we get insane, with its implication that the affected person is unaware he or she is afflicted.

More Light Hearted Words for Doolally

This is an anglicised version of an Indian place name: Deolali Sanatorium, and the original was that someone had the doolally tap, meaning they were off their heads, off their rockers, out of their mind. Loopy means full of loops, confused, befuddled.

Bonkers, nuts, bananas all kindly describe a state of some madness, perhaps more eccentric than swivel-eyed craziness. Having a screw loose, not all there, sending for the men in white coats or for the little green van with yellow wheels: these all suggest mild barminess. Psycho is much harsher, and links to psychosis and psychopathic.

To be called mad as a hatter may hark back to the days when hat-makers found their nervous systems affected by the mercury that was used in the making of hats, so they trembled and appeared insane. To be crazy stems from the original crazy like a loon. A loon was a species of bird with a weird, haunting cry, so suggesting to observers the howls of the insane.

To be off your trolley or off the rails most likely came from the days of electric tramcars or trolleys, where the rods linking vehicles to cables easily became disconnected, or the whole tram could slip out of the rail grove.

Modern and Amusing Terms for Being Whacky or Whacko

The media dubbed the late Michael Jackson as Wacko because of his eccentric lifestyle; it made a good headline. Other current terms include: he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest (from the play and movie set in a mental treatment facility), he doesn’t have both oars in the water, he’s one sandwich short of the full picnic, or he’s out to lunch.

Other delights include: He’s from the shallow end of the gene pool; when they were giving out brains, he got pushed to the back; his brother was an only child; the lights are on but nobody’s home; he’s not playing with a full deck; if brains were taxed, he’d get a refund and the wheel’s spinning but the hamster is dead.

Finally, perhaps in these politically correct times, a person inflicted by idiocy may be better called: mentally challenged, differently brained, terminal alternative reality view and has kicked the sanity habit.

First published on Suite 101, 19 March 2010.

Photo: Alabama Insane Hospital 1907 – Unknown

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