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The meaning and origin of the expression: Run amok

Run amok

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Run amok'?

To 'run amok', which is sometimes spelled 'run amuck', is to behave in a wild or unruly manner.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Run amok'?

Run amokThe expression 'run amok' is now synonymous with 'go crazy', but originally had a specific meaning.

The term originated in Southeast Asia, where 'amok' (variously spelled amuk, amuck, amuco) meant 'a murderous frenzy or rage'. This derived from the state of mind of the Amuco - a class of 'death or glory' warriors who were employed in local power struggles in Java and Malaysia. Their belief was that fallen warriors became favourites of the gods, whereas failed missions were punished by dishonour and death. Unsurprisingly, the Amuco warriors had little to lose and their attacks were maniacal and frenzied. This is first alluded to in the 1516 text Barbosa, which was translated by Stanley, in 1866:

"There are some of them [the Javanese] who go out into the streets, and kill as many persons as they meet. These are called Amuco."

Captain James Cook, in his account of his travels in that part of the world - Voyages, 1772, gives an explicit definition of 'run amok':

"To run amock is to get drunk with opium... to sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage."

See also - go berserk and go postal.

See also - read the riot act.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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