I’ve often wondered how so many slang expressions connecting nuts to craziness came into being and decided to do a little digging. Here are some expressions we often encounter and sometimes even use when dealing with perfectly normal people who seem to sometimes act unreasonably.
He’s a total nut.
That’s a nutty idea!
She’s a bonafide nutcase.
That’s the nuttiest thing I ever heard!
Check out that nutter.
They’re completely nuts.
You’re off your nut!
They’re nutty as a fruitcake.
You belong in the nuthouse!
I’m nuts about him.
Nuts to you!
That’s pure nuttiness!
One is nuttier than the other!
Have you gone nutso!
Who let you out of the nuthatch?
The dictionary was a great start. My Webster’s New World Dictionary explains the adjective “nuts” in the following way: [Slang] crazy; foolish –interj. [Slang] an exclamation of disgust, scorn, disappointment, refusal, etc; often in the phrase “nuts to someone or something”—be nuts about [Slang] . 1. To be greatly in love with 2. To be very enthusiastic about.
The word “nutty” is explained as
1. Containing or producing many nuts
2. having a nutlike flavor
3. [Slang] a) enthusiastic, often to excess. b) queer, foolish, crazy, etc.
The slang for “nut” opens another line of thought. According to my trusty dictionary, [Slang] a) the head b) the testicles; a vulgar usage . [Slang] a) a foolish, crazy, or eccentric person b) a devotee; fan
The AnswerBag contained a post explaining that the word “nutty,” referring to insane, was first recorded in England in 1821. Nutter is an English expression attributed to a person who is “mad,” yet another expression for crazy.
In his April 10, 2006 article “What Makes Nuts So Crazy?” posted on Slate, Daniel Engber mentions nuts in a few striking quotes. On the subject of Iran and the U.S. possibility of a nuclear strike, reporter Seymour Hersh quotes a former intelligence officer as saying that the Iranians “are nuts, and there’s no reason to back off.” Another comment came from a diplomat who told Hersh that there are weapons inspectors who believe the Iranians are “nutcases—one hundred per cent totally certified nuts.” The British see the issue quite differently with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw considering a nuclear strike “completely nuts.” Engber poses the question, “How did ‘nuts’ get to mean ‘crazy’?”
Engber tells us that the British of the late 19th century used the expression “nuts” in cases where they found something was enjoyable. They used expressions like being “nuts on something” and “crazy on something.” In the 20th century Americans eliminated the word “on” after the word “nuts” and “nuts” became a synonym for crazy. Obviously, Jack Straw’s use of the word “nuts” did not mean that he felt bombing Iran was enjoyable. He was echoing the American usage of equating “nuts” with crazy.
The word “nut” became a mid-1800s slang term referring to the head. Engber says that if you were told you were “off your nut,” it was pretty clear you were crazy.
My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the term “screwy” as a slang expression for mentally unbalanced; crazy. Engber’s article explains that psychologist Timothy Anderson discovered that the word “nut” at one time referred to the head of the penis and later became connected to a man’s head, and following that, the testicle. It begins to make sense that the term “screw” referred to sexual intercourse during the time “screwy” was a common term. Expressions like “so and so went bananas” and “so and so is nutty as a fruitcake” were terms that appeared some time after the word “fruit” became associated with homosexuality.
Regarding the connection between nut and testicle, the December 23, 1950 issue of New Yorker contains the quote, “On the N.B.C. network, it is forbidden to call any character a nut; you have to call him a screwball.”
Nuts and crazy have become so commonly intertwined that we see everyday examples in the news, internet blogs, and even book titles. A perfect example is the book by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg titled Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. The book tells the success story of Herb Kelleher who reinvented air travel with a bit of creativity and savvy marketing.
On HubPages prominently placed at the top is the headline “Rush Limbaugh is REALLY Crazy (“nuts” would be a better word)”
Even GameGecko.com, an internet game website, latched onto a catchy name for its featured game “Crazy Nut.”
A post by Henry Fernandez on the May 11, 2009 AlterNet mentioned a recent post by ThinkProgress discussing a far-right conservative contingency that expressed concern about President Obama’s choice of Harold Koh for Legal Adviser to the Department of State. Fernandez says, “Their nutty views have been trumped up by Fox News and the New York Post with extremist Glenn Beck leading the charge.“ Beck was quoted from his appearance on Fox News after expressing strong opposition to Harold Koh, “There is a big debate on the internet, in the New York Times and everybody else, saying that I’m a crazy nut-job because of Harold Koh.”
The connection between nuts and crazy has been well established in the media and continues to appear in movie themes, popular songs, food products, advertising messages, and everyday conversation. So, I’ll close this crazy blog post with this nutty thought:
I sincerely hope your crazy day is filled with pure and delightful nuttiness!