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Re: Haywire

Posted by Henry on January 25, 2004

In Reply to: Re: Haywire posted by James Briggs on January 25, 2004

: : : I was pointed to this website, so I thought I'd use it to discover the meaning of a phrase that seems to crop up more and more in my elderly life: 'Things are going haywire'.
: : : No explanation is forthcoming though, so anyone any idea? I'm pretty sure that farmers of old didn't use wire in the course of their haymaking, and why would it be a bad thing anyway?

: : : Cheers, Dave Jacobs

: To go haywire is to go out of control; to behave wildly. I have found several suggested origins for this phrase, all from the USA. The first says that wire, properly only intended to bale up hay,(ie haywire) was used, instead, by many farmers to make their boundary fences. The wire rusted quickly with the result that the properties were unkempt and had an appearance of being out of control. A second suggestion says that the wire, when correctly used to bundle up hay, would writhe and wriggle when cut to eventually release the hay. The third says the notion comes from the disorder and chaos present in a farm yard when the used lengths of wire were left dumped in a corner.

From Bartleby; Why should the word for something as functional and mundane as haywire have come to be applied to something that is not functioning properly or to a person who is crazy? It would seem a story of semantics gone haywire. Haywire is a compound of the words hay and wire, originally simply denoting wire used to bale hay or straw. The term is first recorded as a noun in a debate in the Canadian House of Commons , so it is a Canadianism or, since it appeared soon thereafter in a U.S. publication, a North Americanism. We find an earlier attributive use in the phrase hay wire outfit, a term used contemptuously for poorly equipped loggers. What lies behind this term is the practice of making repairs with haywire. Haywire is found in other contexts with the general sense "makeshift, inefficient," from which come the extended senses "not functioning properly" and "crazy."

From the Scott Polar Research Institute site; "The main party were back in Anarctica in February 1957. An intermediary station was erected at South Ice, 275 miles inland, and on November 24 the crossing was begun in six tracked vehicles with dogs and aircraft in support. Throughout what was to prove one of the "worst journeys in the world", Fuchs maintained absolute discipline and high morale, showing neither depression at delay nor elation at progress. The order in which the cavalcade moved forward never varied: Fuchs was always the leader either in his Sno-Cat, Rock'n'Roll, or in the heavily canvassed areas, probing the way in one of the lighter Weasels."

To get to the point at last! Another of the Sno-Cats was called Haywire. It returned to England and was exhibited in several towns and cities - I remember going to see it in Gynn Square in Blackpool. It shows that the term was familiar in the 1950s! I assume canvassed is a misprint for cravassed.