Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Stories in the media about a new dance craze, the Kiki, got me thinking about the word craze and its relatives crazed and crazy. Before we get there, for the uninitiated the Kiki or Kiki challenge involves jumping out of a moving vehicle, dancing alongside it to the Drake hit In My Feelings, then jumping back in. The potential for accidents and mishaps is obvious and police forces across the world have warned people not to attempt the challenge, but such is the nature of crazes that more people will probably be injured before this one fizzles out of its own accord, as they invariably do.

The OED dates this meaning of craze to the early 19th century, as a weakened form of ‘an insane or irrational fancy; a mania’. The verb craze originally meant ‘to develop cracks’ and the adjective crazy originally meant ‘full of cracks or flaws’ before being extended metaphorically to describe people with mental illnesses or disabilities. This use is no longer regarded as acceptable, though we still use crazy to describe behaviour that is not sensible or practical, or someone who is very much in love or has an excessive enthusiasm for something.

To go crazy has several meanings, including to become very angry, very excited, or very bored, impatient and upset. Like crazy is used to emphasize the fact that something is happening in a very extreme way. The use of the noun crazy to refer to a person who is mentally ill is no longer considered acceptable, though it is acceptable to use it in the more recent meaning of crazy actions or behaviour.

The suffixes -crazy and -crazed are used to form adjectives that show what someone is extremely enthusiastic about (-crazy), and what makes them behave in an irrational or uncontrolled way (-crazed). Someone who is heat-crazed, for example, has been driven crazy by the heat. Crazy also forms compounds. In British English, crazy paving is a type of paving where different sized pieces are fitted together, while crazy golf is a miniaturized form of the game with obstacles such as tunnels and bridges. In American English, a crazy quilt is what British English calls a patchwork quilt: like the paving, it recalls the word’s original meaning.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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