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Posted by ESC on December 25, 1999

In Reply to: Crackpot posted by ESC on December 23, 1999

: : : Does anyone know the origin of the word crackpot?

: : I haven't found anything definitive yet, but it's fun to speculate. So, let's: most metaphors for stupidity involve deficiency (one brick short of a load, not playing with a full deck, no lights in the attic, etc.) but metaphors for irrational or erratic or foolish behavior and ideas tend to factor in outside influences (the moon, in "lunatic," "touched," "cracked," etc. So, if a foolish, irrational person's skull can be seen as a pot, the behavior could be explained in the same way you explain why the water jug leaks: it's cracked, and therefore impractical or even useless. A crackpot is a person seen as one who has taken too many (figuarative) left uppercuts to the noggin, and the physical damage is being manifested in peculiar behavior. This is, of course, all speculation... but I had fun doing it.I await better scholarship.

: First of all, I must preface this with a mental health message. The U.S. surgeon general's report came out last week -- more than HALF of people with serious mental disorders don't seek help even though modern medicine offers cures for most conditions. Most don't seek help because of fear and shame. If you or a love one is a crackpot, talk to a doctor or counselor. Now that I'm done with that, all I can contribute is this entry from "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (1976, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.): "cracked, 1825; crackbrain, 1838; crackbrained, 1855; crack-up, mental or nervous breakdown, 1850s; crackpot, 1860s." AND to make up for the mental health message at the start of this, I offer this list of "fulldeckisms" --

"...But the expression is much older than this, for a character in Aristophane's (ca. 448-ca. 388 B.C.) 'The Frogs' is said to be 'cracked.' A variant is 'crack-brained,' first record in 1557.) From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, 1997).