The word “crazy” originated in the 1570s and was defined as diseased or sickley. Since then, the word has evolved to mean demented, deranged, or of unsound mind. In current culture you hear the word used in an altogether new way. Some use it to mean something is cool, others use it as a synonym for unusual, risky, and/or interesting. Here are some examples:
- Did you see that movie? It was crazy wicked.
- I saw Ben at the store the other day, his hair was crazy!
- Sally’s about to skydive she’s crazy!
- I just listened to a podcast about volcanoes, they are crazy interesting.
People also use the word to describe someone with a mental illness. People may say, “Ben is bipolar, he’s crazy.” Or, “Get those crazies off the streets, lock them up!”
While I don’t like the two examples above, I dislike even more when someone sees something on the news and decides that the person who did some awful thing is crazy. For example, when someone says a mass shooter must be crazy to have done what they did. Crazy, when referring to someone’s mental well-being is never a positive thing.
With the varied meanings of this word, the impact it can have on someone when misused is often overlooked. Language evolves. The meaning of words change as the culture in which they are used changes. As the media changes from using the word crazy to terms like “mentally disturbed”, popular culture is taking a stronger hold on crazy to mean something other than someone who is, “demented, deranged, or of unsound mind”.
I have seen my own opinion change over time. I used to hate hearing people use the word crazy for any reason, due to what I perceived as the negative connotation. Then I began catching myself say something that is unusual is crazy. For a while I tried to catch myself and use different words rather than crazy and realized that it is a times bulkier or sounds awkward to substitute another word.
I now find that I am okay with and even embrace crazy as a word, as long as it is not being used against a person or group of people. Case in point: I am a proud “crazy cat lady”.
Please let me know what you think of crazy and it’s many meanings in the comments or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in learning more about the origin or words or the evolution of language, an excellent podcast is Lexicon Valley.