Ok, going to try to get this in real quick as there is less than 2 hours of Wednesday left. (I really need to start writing these on Tuesday so I can post them on Wednesday morning.)
Today’s word is “nuts” and its variants “nutter” and “nutty as a fruitcake”. I chose this term since I’m often telling my kids, when they’re being playful and silly, “you’re nuttier than a fruitcake”.
Nuts from The Word Dectective:
The basic sense of its Indo-European root (“knuk”) was “lump,” and most uses of “nut” in English have been based on the sense of “a small, hard kernel.” The use of “nuts” to mean “crazy” that you mention comes from the slang “nut” meaning “head,” and is derived from the description of an addled person as being “off his nut.”
Further from Online Etymology Dictionary:
Meaning “crazy,” 1846, from earlier be “nutts upon” (meaning to) “be very fond of” (1785), which is possibly from nuts (noun, plural) “any source of pleasure” (1610s), from nut (q.v.). Sense influenced probably by metaphoric application of nut to “head” (1846, e.g. to be off one’s nut “be insane,” 1860).
Nutter from Online Etymology Dictionary:
My source for “nutty as a fruitcake” or, as we say in the Madhouse, “nuttier than a fruitcake” came from a surprising source – a Wikipedia article on the use of the term “fruit” as derogatory slang describing homosexuals. Here it is:
Fruitcakes, which are cakes containing both fruit and nuts, have been in existence since the Middle Ages, but it is unclear when the term started being used disparagingly, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, as a slur for a ‘crazy person’ (e.g. “he’s a complete fruitcake”) although Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang traces uses of fruitcake meaning an eccentric (crazy) person to 1910s. It is derived from the expression “nutty as a fruitcake”, which was first recorded in 1935. A nut can be either a seed or a fruit.
By the 1930s both fruit and fruitcake terms are seen as not only negative but also to mean male homosexual, although probably not universally. It should be noted that LGBT people were widely diagnosed as diseased with the potential for being cured, thus were regularly “treated” with castration,lobotomies, pudic nerve surgery, and electroshock treatment. so transferring the meaning of fruitcake, nutty, to someone who is deemed insane, or crazy, may have seemed rational at the time and many apparently believed that LGBT people were mentally unsound. In the United States, psychiatric institutions (“mental hospitals“) where many of these procedures were carried out were called fruitcake factories while in 1960s Australia they were called fruit factories.
I know there’s still a long to go for mental health advocacy (and LGBT advocacy) but let’s take a moment to acknowledge how far we have come in less than a century – no more lobotomies, no more castration (at least I hope not). Praise God for what we have accomplished! And continued strength and courage to those who continue to fight the battle for equity on all fronts.