Headbanging and hairfloating

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Ariyan Islamian et al., "Chronic subdural haematoma secondary to headbanging", The Lancet 5-11 July 2014:

A 50-year-old man presented to our neurosurgical department in January, 2013, with a 2 week history of constant worsening headache affecting the whole head. He had no history of head trauma, but reported headbanging at a Motörhead concert 4 weeks previously. His medical history was unremarkable and he denied substance misuse. Neurological examination and laboratory studies, including coagulation screening, were normal. Cranial CT showed right-sided chronic subdural haematoma with pronounced midline shift (figure). He underwent burr hole evacuation of the haematoma and closed system subdural drainage for 6 days after surgery.1 His headache resolved and he was discharged home after 8 days.

Alvin Barnes, "Heavy Metal Headbanging is a Health Hazard, can result in Brain Bleed", Wall Street OTC 7/5/2014:

“We are not against headbanging,” said Dr Ariyan Pirayesh Islamian, one of the doctors who treated the man. “The risk of injury is very, very low. But I think if [our patient] had [gone] to a classical concert, this would not have happened.” […]

Dr. Colin Shieff, a neurosurgeon of Headway, the British brain injury advocacy group, was of the view, “There are probably other higher risk events going on at rock concerts than headbanging”.

Islamian supported and quoted, “Rock ‘n’ roll will never die,” he said. “Heavy metal fans should rock on.”

The word headbanging and related terms like headbanger are a good example of the semantic quasi-regularity of English compounding. Even knowing that "headbangers" are fans of certain rock sub-genres, you might think that headbanging involves banging other people's heads, or banging heads with other fans, or whatever. But as Wikipedia explains,

Headbanging is violently shaking the head in time with the music, most commonly in the rock, punk and heavy metal music genres.

The same article includes a quote that illustrates the semantic focusing effect involved:

Ian Gillan, frontman of Deep Purple, when asked if he invented headbanging, said: "That’s a definite possibility", although he claimed that "it was not really head banging — more hair floating".

The OED has two earlier interpretations, with citations going back to 1886 and 1951 respectively, which

1. orig. Psychol. The action of repeatedly banging the head against something, or of repeatedly and violently nodding or shaking the head, sometimes accompanied by rocking of the body. Headbanging is fairly common in young children, esp. in the early stages of sleep. In older children and adults it may be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders and psychiatric illness.

2. Chiefly Polit. The action or process of enforcing cooperation or discipline among people in dispute or conflict. Cf. to bang heads together.



  1. Mark Mandel said,

    July 5, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

    Indeed! Until reaching your discussion of semantics, and even associating the term with heavy metal music, I thought the patient had been banging his head against a wall or other stationary solid object.

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 5, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

    Ian Gillan may have demonstrated the activity some time before the name became standardized or was even coined. The google books corpus is probably imperfect for this question because it is likely seriously underweight the sort of texts that would likely give you the earliest evidence of this sort of usage, but the earliest definitively-datable example of the heavy-metal sense of headbanger/headbanging I can find therein is from August 1980 (Billboard magazine review of an LP which disappeared without a trace in terms of both commercial success and subsequent cult/critical fame), with one possible earlier instance (but hard to confirm accuracy of dating due to limitations of snippet view) from '79. FWIW, sometime around '79 or '80 is apparently when Motörhead's fan club (initially a very low-budget effort run by the then-drummer's sister) acquired the name Motörheadbangers, which may have helped popularize the usage (and makes the immediate cause of the particular injury especially apropos).

    [(myl) FWIW, the OED's first citations for sense "3. A style of dancing, typically to heavy metal or hard rock music, involving vigorous and rhythmic nodding or shaking of the head":

    1978   New Musical Express 2 Dec. 57/3   These enduring fragments were soon dissipated by pure head banging. So the new numbers..emerged as second rate heavy metal.
    1980   Sounds 5 Apr. 16/2   The non-denimed half of the audience..head for popcorn stand during all but the single while headbanging-as-usual goes on elsewhere.


  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 6, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Interestingly enough for this evidence of an end-of-the-Seventies origin, the German wikipedia article http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headbangen points to the Ramones song "Suzy Is a Headbanger" (included on their second album, released 1977 but recorded Oct. '76), but I think it's quite plausible (especially given the lyrical preoccupation of the band in their early years with various sorts of psychological abnormality) that when originally written the lyrics were meant to evoke the OED's sense 1, even if they became widely understood in hindsight to evoke sense 3. Although also possible that the inchoate sense 3 was known to the band so it was intentional wordplay?

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