ARL Archive · Know Your Words

Crazy, Delusional, Erratic: Which Is It?

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The sleep of reason brings forth what? Oh, right….

On March 6, the Washington Post asked if Trump was “bonkers or paranoid,”  David Letterman recently went on the record calling him “crazy,” and other media outlets have referred to him as “erratic,” “irrational,” “delusional,” and “deranged.”

Well, dammit, which is it? To find out, ARL’s crack research team (which consists of me and my dog) dug into our references to see of we could figure out which of these terms most accurately applies to our psycho-in-chief (that one was mine). Here’s what we found.

Crazy  1. unsound; cracked; flawed; shaky; rickety; hence, 2. unsound of mind; mentally unbalanced or deranged; psychopathic; insane. 3. of or fit for an insane person. 4. temporarily unbalanced, as with great excitement, rage, etc. 5. [Colloq.] very enthusiastic; very eager: as, she’s crazy about the movies.

Crazy, says the (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins, originally meant, “literally cracked.” This soon came to be extended metaphorically to frail, ill … thence to “mentally unbalanced.”

Delusional  Delusional was not in my go-to dictionary*, but delusion was. It is defined as 1. a deluding. 2. the condition of being deluded. 3. a false belief or opinion. 4. (in psychiatry) a false persistent belief not substantiated by sensory evidence. The dictionary goes on to say that “delusion implies belief in something that is contrary to fact or reality, resulting from deception, a misconception, or a mental disorder.”

Delude, says the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, comes from Latin deludere “to mock,” from de- (here with pejorative force) and ludere, “to play.”

Demented  1. mentally ill; affected with dementia.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories says demented is a mid-17th century word and past-participle of dement, which means “to drive mad.” This, in turn, came from the Old French demeter or Late Latin dementare. The Latin adjective demens, “out of one’s mind,” is the base of this and of dementia.

Deranged 1. disordered. 2. disordered in mind, insane.

Derange, says the ODWH, is an 18th century word that comes from the French deranger, from the Old French desrengier, literally “move from orderly rows.” The senses “make insane” and “throw into confusion, disarrange” were both found in early contexts in English.

Erratic  1. Having no fixed course or purpose; irregular; wandering. 2. deviating from the conventional or customary course; eccentric; queer.

The ODWH traces erratic back to the Old French erraticus, from errare “to stray, err.” It was first used in connection with planets described as erratic stars; it had the sense prone to wander. The sense, “unpredictable in movement” dates back to the 19th century.

The Dictionary or Word Origins also traces the word back to err, and the ‘prehistoric base’ er-, which meant “wandering about.”

Insane 1. not sane; mentally ill or deranged; demented; mad; crazy. 2. for insane people: as, an insane asylum. 3. very foolish, impractical, extravagant, etc.; senseless.

Insane gets linked by the ODWH to Latin insanus, from in- “not” and sanus “healthy.” A now obsolete sense “causing insanity” is found in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (“Have we eaten on the insane root, that takes the reason prisoner?”) The word in its current sense was used to describe actions as well as people.

Irrational  1. lacking the power to reason. 2. contrary to reason; senseless; unreasonable; absurd.

[Nothing in etymological dictionaries]

Unhinged Like delusional, unhinged was not in the dictionary. Unhinge was, however, and it is defined as: 1.to remove from the hinges. 2.to remove the hinges from. 3. to dislodge or detach. 4. to throw (the mind, etc.) into confusion; unbalance or upset.

[Nothing in etymological dictionaries]

So which one of these words best describes our leader? I’m partial to deranged — the notion of “throwing into confusion” is a little too on the nose. Nevertheless, I have to admit that all of these words apply, and that makes me unbelievably sad.

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