Apparently, there are a lot of crazy animals in the English language. I’m focusing mostly on phrases I heard growing up in Nebraska. I want to understand what, exactly, makes them crazy, mad (or not). All are idioms, defined as a phrase or expression whose meaning can’t be understood from the ordinary meanings of the words in it. That actually makes sense.
Crazier Than A Hoot Owl – My mother says this quite a bit. First, I wondered if a hoot owl was a specific type. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of hoot owl is any of various owls (as the tawny owl of Europe or the barred owl of America) having a loud hooting call. Second, why are hoot owls considered crazy in the first place? Hoot owls being crazy derives from the strange cry emanating from the owls.
Some sources suggest “crazier than a hoot owl” is more of a Southern expression. However, the term was published in the University of Nebraska Studies in Language, Literature, and Criticism series, Number 13, in 1933. That would certainly help explain why my mother uses it. But it could certainly be a regional phrase.
Crazy As A Loon – The loon is the unofficial bird of Canada and the state bird of Minnesota. Describing the bird, a loon has a short tail, webbed feet, and a cry that sometimes sounds like a mad person’s howling. A loon is sometimes used to describe a deranged person.
There are other nutty animals in the English language:
Crazy As A Coot (another bird making odd calls), similar to the two expressions above.
But, Mad as a March Hare grabbed my attention. I’ve occasionally heard the phrase, though not often. My initial thought was, if hares are actually crazy, is it just in March? Why aren’t hares mad in July, for example?
According to Elyse Bruce, author of The Idiomation Series, the phrase comes from the belief that when breeding season hits in Europe — which just happens to begin during the month of March — hares behave erratically. However, the behavior actually occurs well past March. Since hares are docile during the winter months, when they seem to be agitated and excited — and sometimes violent — it only appears to be out of character. So, a hare could, in fact, be mad in July.
Since being perceived as crazy isn’t exactly a positive attribute, I suppose this is why these idioms all involve animals who aren’t going to protest about unfair treatment!