Archives for posts with tag: Alice in Wonderland

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

This is the first line of a song by Noel Coward.

Out of sight, out of mind
is a saying meaning that if you can’t see something you are unlikely to think about it.  I find that this is true, so I like to give myself visual reminders to do a task – a list, or a pie dish left out, for instance.  This post gathers together expressions which have been used in the past about people with mental health problems or who were considered to be eccentric.

Are you out of your mind?
Out of your mind means mad (or crazy).  Someone may have just voice a new idea or suggested a risky scheme.

Going through a bad patch is a generalisation.  It could be health problems of any kind, marital problems, unemployment or any other difficulty in life.

As mad as a hatter is a popular simile.  The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland represented hat-makers who had been exposed to compounds containing mercury, which affected their brains.

Driven to distraction describes what sometimes happens if someone already has lots of different things to do and people are pestering them to do other things all at the same time.  They are distracted from what they are doing and cannot concentrate on anything.

I don’t know whether I’m coming or going is a usual reaction to these circumstances.

Give me strength might be a prayer for the ability to cope.  A church building in the Midlands has these words displayed in large letters.  It has been converted into a  ‘fitness and tanning’ business!

Going spare
has a literal meaning of being surplus to requirements, but also means at the end of one’s tether. (See What are you worrying about?)

Off one’s trolley means mentally derailed.

Doolally (from Deolali, a town in India) and
Doolally tap  means insane or irrational.  The derivation, which I looked up in The Dictionary of Modern Phrase by Graeme Donald, is that British troops arriving in this town at the wrong time of year had to wait up to 6 months for transport home.  Tap means fever in Hindustani and those who spent the time in drunkenness and other unprofitable behaviour were said to have caught Deolali tap.

Tapping one’s head is a way of indicating that someone may be mad.  Perhaps it comes from the expression above.

There’s method in my madness.
Other people may not be able to see the sense in what I am doing, but there is a reason for it.

Are you deaf or are you daft?
How many people have been asked this as children?  If you haven’t heard the instructions you have an excuse for not following them, but if you haven’t understood them…
…I think there are better ways of dealing with this kind of situation, but the question is probably meant to be light-hearted.  Deafness and mental incapacity are both mostly invisible disabilities.

Don’t mock the afflicted!
There are some very unkind jokes about disabled (or the older term handicapped) people.  My parents banned them with this remark.

She’s got a bee in her bonnet.
Not many people wear bonnets nowadays, but many are afraid of bees.  Panicking and rushing around makes you more likely to be stung.  The saying is about someone with a particular enthusiasm or obsession.  (Mine’s blogging!)

As nutty as a fruitcake
is a synonym about madness and bananas is a metaphor as are having a screw loose, a loose slate or bats in the belfry.
A belfry is another name for a bell-tower.  If there were bats there it might prevent the bells, being rung as bats are protected species!

Crackers, crackpot, loony (from lunatic) and stark raving mad are all derogatory terms.

Understanding of mental health is improving.  There is a useful website here.

The Gospel of Mark Chapter 5  verses 1-20 tells the story of how after Jesus had healed a man he was clothed and in his right mind”.

He never misses a trick.
This expression describes someone who never ignores an opportunity to express his opinion or gain an advantage.

Whist, hinny
is a north country expression meaning “Be quiet, honey”.

Aces of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Aces of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Heart, clubs, diamonds, spades is the order that the trump suit follows in whist, a game where talking is not expected.  It is played by groups of four people, who play each with a partner sitting opposite.  Telling each other what is in your hand is strictly forbidden.  You have to hold your cards close to your chest.  This expression has been adopted in other aspects of life, such as business dealing.

He held the trump card.
In many card games one suit is (temporarily) more important than the rest.  A card played from this suit beats higher value cards from other suits.  It is used as a metaphor for being in the strongest position.

That trumped it.
It went one better.

She came up trumps
means she did just what was needed.

“One, two, three, four – kiss the dealer.”
When a pack of playing cards is shuffled, cut and dealt in a game of whist, if a player leads an ace (which is higher in value than a king), and the other three players have the two, three and four of the same suit, it implies that the cards have been fairly distributed between the players.  Sometimes this is not the case and one player may only have cards of three of the suits or perhaps one card of a particular suit (a singleton).

In spades
is derived from bridge, which is a more complex game based on whist.  I do not know the details of the rules and conventions for this game, but spades are the most valuable cards. If someone has done something in spades, they have excelled.

Level pegging
is an expression from another card game, crib or cribbage.  This is a game for two, three or four players.  The score is kept using a wooden board with holes drilled in it and pegs, which may be matchsticks or proper pegs made of wood or plastic.  The pegs are moved to show the player’s latest score.  If the scores are equal the pegs are level.  The expression is used in other competitive situations.

Cribbage board showing level pegging

Cribbage board showing level pegging

So-and-so has pegged out.
At the end of a game of crib, the winner’s pegs will have completed one or two double lengths of the board.  (The holes go up one side and the adjacent holes are used to come back down the other side.)  Once the agreed distance has been completed, the winner has pegged out and the game is over.  The expression has become a euphemism for dying.

Scoring in crib is based of groups of cards adding up to fifteen, (court cards – King, Queen, Jack – count as ten), pairs, runs and flushes (all the same suit).  The players begin with an extra card (or cards), which has to be placed in the crib or box.  The box belongs to the dealer.  Once all the players have decided which card to put in the box, there should be four cards in it and each player should also have four cards.  A hand is then played, where cards are played and points may be gained for a total of fifteen, thirty-one, pairs, runs and last card, if this is lower than thirty-one.  Once thirty-one has been reached or approached and no-one else has a low enough card to play, the next player starts again at the beginning.  After all the cards in the players hands have been played, the scores in each hand and finally the box are worked out.     At this stage there are some expressions which may be used to help with the counting.  (There are more details to the rules than I have covered here.)

Fifteen, two and the rest won’t do.
The only score in a hand is two points for a total of fifteen points made by adding the value of two or more cards.

Fifteen, two; fifteen four and there aren’t any more.
This score is twice as good.  An example of how it might have been made is a king, a queen and a five.  Two sixes and a nine would give six points, as the sixes would score two for a pair.

I’ve got nineteen!
Whatever cards there are in a hand, nineteen is an impossible score.  My Grandad liked to joke that he had nineteen on the rare occasions when his hand did not score any points.  I think twenty-four is the maximum possible, but if you know of a way of scoring more, I’d be glad to learn it.

Put all your cards on the table
probably comes from the stage in crib, where a players cards are laid down for everyone to see and the score worked out.  Again it is a phrase used in negotiations.

As black as the ace of spades…
Traditionally the ace of spades is decorated with the maker’s name.  A spade is more solid than a club in its shape and that is presumably why this simile was coined.

A chequer board
is the board used in draughts (chequers) and chess. It is used to describe a pattern of squares of alternate light and dark colours.

An opening gambit in chess is a set move, which is supposed to elicit a set response.  In conversation or debate, it is what someone says first.

Keeping someone in check
means holding them back.  In chess when a king is in check, there are a limited number of things the player can do to get him out of check.  At the next move a skilled opponent might put him back in check.  The game ends when the king cannot be moved out of check at which stage it is checkmate.   This has come to mean an impasse.

Only a pawn
is another expression from the game of chess.  The pawns represent the foot soldiers and have the most limits on how they can be moved.  Except in books where there are live chess pieces (such as Alice in Wonderland) pawns have no say in what happens to them.  Someone who feels they have no control in a situation, might use this expression.

Puritans forbade the playing of games.  In my view they are valuable educationally helping with what used to be known as the three R’s, Reading wRiting and aRithmetic.  They also help with social skills and give people a reason to meet socially.  Games such as draughts and chess help develop logical skills.  However they can become addictive, but so can eating and drinking!

St Paul in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 14 verses 3 and 4) gave advice to Christians who could not agree about dietary rules.  Verse 4 (NIV) seems appropriate here Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  To his own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.