Mad

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I'm in San Francisco for InterSpeech 2016, where I'm involved in four papers over three days, so blogging will probably be a bit light. But I have a few minutes before the morning starts, so let me continue the discussion of Gabriel Roth's feelings ("Paper cut to the heart", 9/8/2016) by quoting from Bill S's comment:

Some of the context for M-W's reply is (I would think) the prescriptivist injunctions against the use of "I feel like" for "I think that" — I've seen waves of complaints about "I feel like" washing up on various internet shores over the past year (may be recency effect though). If read as ironic deployment of prescriptivism against prescriptivism, it has enough artfulness to counter the rudeness (to me, anyway — you don't get a good opportunity for a one-liner like that every day, and it would be a shame to pass it up).

Indeed: some prior LLOG coverage:

"'I feel like'", 8/24/2013
"Feelings, beliefs, and thoughts", 5/1/2016
"Feeling in the Supreme Court", 5/3/2016

And it's also worth quoting John McIntyre's comment:

I rather thought his set of tweets was a labored attempt at humor that, whether he knows better or not, appeared to betray an ignorance of what dictionaries are for and how lexicographers work. His talking about feeling ambivalent made the Merriam-Webster response concise and apt. The language doesn't care how you feel about it.

But I want to add a note about the history and current status of mad used to mean "angry",  which makes this case an especially problematic one to use as the starting point for a complaint that "Merriam-Webster is turning into the 'chill' parent who lets your friends come over and get high".

As of 2000, 16 years ago, the OED gave mad a sense 6.b.  glossed as "Angry, irate, cross. Also, in weakened sense: annoyed, exasperated (with †against, at, with, etc.)", with citations from the 15th century onwards, e.g.

c1425  (▸?a1400)    Arthur 234   Whan þis lettre was open & rad, Þe Bretons & all men were mad And wolde þe messager scle.
a1604   M. Hanmer Chron. Ireland 125 in J. Ware Two Hist. Ireland (1633)    Roderic was mad, and in his rage, caused his pledges head..to be cut off.
1611   Bible (King James) Acts xxvi. 11   And being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them euen vnto strange cities.
1766   D. Garrick Neck or Nothing i. ii. 15   He was damn'd mad, that he cou'd not be at the wedding.
1902   W. James Varieties Relig. Experience xi. 264   He can't 'get mad' at any of his alternatives; and the career of a man beset by such an all-round amiability is hopeless.
1939   J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath 260   Goin' aroun' stirrin' up trouble. Gettin' folks mad.

It's true that they characterize this sense as "Now colloq. (chiefly N. Amer.) and Brit. regional".

But in a random sample of 100 (out of 1270) examples from COHA texts published in the 1990s, I find that 56 mean "angry" — almost  none of which seem especially "colloquial" — while only 16 mean "crazy", mostly in expressions like "drive X mad" and "go mad". (The other 28 are mostly in the idiom "like mad" — e.g. "leaking like mad" — or in proper names like "Mad River" or "Mad Max" or "Mad Cow disease", the title "Mad About You", etc.)

Some examples:

She sat up straight, suddenly seething mad.
Jacob got mad. The haze made him jumpy and irritable …
When she got mad, her family ran for cover …
He was mad at God because there was no one else to be mad at.
But he wasn't mad; he was actually laughing a bit.
A policeman came, not the one who was mad at her but a Santa Claus policeman — fat, ruddy, and kind-talking.

So 20-odd years ago, when most of those parents, chill or otherwise, were themselves growing up, the "angry" sense of mad was already beating the "crazy" sense in serious American writing by 56/16 = 3.5 to 1.

And a quick search of the slate.com web site (where Gabriel Roth is a senior editor) turns up many recent examples of mad = "angry":

First they laugh at you, then they get mad at you, then they fight you.
Everyone is still mad at Ted Cruz
The current front-runner opted out of Thursday night's debate because he's still mad at Kelly for questioning him about his misogynist past
Have you been seeing tweets from people who are mad at Amy Schumer when you log into Twitter?
Are voters this year really mad at "the establishment"?
So why are all the queer people in my feeds mad about this Daily Beast Grindr story?
Jordan Davis, who was killed in a gas station by a man who was mad about his loud music

Even a search on Slate for examples of "mad about" from the past year seems to turn up mostly "angry" meanings.

As John McIntyre noted, Roth seems to misunderstand what dictionaries are supposed to do. But even if we agree with Roth that lexicographers should hold the line against those kids today and their out-of-control linguistic drug usage, his choice of mad="angry"  as a casus belli was really tone deaf. The allegedly offensive sense has been around for more than 500 years, has been dominant in American English for more than a generation, and is far and away the most common usage in Roth's own magazine.

Complaining about M-W not holding the patriarchal line against mad="angry" is like complaining about parents who allow their female children to display their ankles and even their calves, or let their male children go to school without a tie on.

And finally, Roth really should have noted that people have been complaining about M-W's abrogration of strict-parent responsibility ever since the (in)famous 3rd edition came out in 1961. See David Skinner's wonderful book The Story of Ain't (and maybe also James Sledd and Wilma Ebbitt's Dictionaries and That Dictionary).  There's some discussion of that early-1960s furor here.



39 Comments

  1. mdhughes said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 8:49 am

    Colloquially (US NW), I've always heard "mad" used as angry as often as crazy.

    "Don't get mad, get even!" dates back to Animal House (1978) and Aerosmith's album Pump (1989? ISTR it earlier, live?)

  2. David L said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 9:18 am

    "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"

    Network, 1976.

  3. Garcol Euphrates said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 9:43 am

    @David_L –
    But he WAS mad – in BOTH senses. Diaphora?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 9:48 am

    "I'm mad as hell…".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdQCPlAZjbY

  5. Mike Eslea said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 10:26 am

    Don't forget Droopy!

    https://youtu.be/CediDrpOyeg

  6. rpsms said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    The thing is, one of the most popular troll-shade memes out there and current is "You mad bro"/"Why you so mad" (aka Y U SO MAD).

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 11:06 am

    @mdhughes: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has examples of "Don't get mad, get even!" back to 1956 and notes that the saying is often related to the Kennedy family and Massachusetts politics. (The Yale Book of Quotations attributes it to Joe Kennedy.)

  8. Rol said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 11:39 am

    Or another favorite use of 'mad' by a non-native speaker
    https://youtu.be/xzpndHtdl9A

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 1:32 pm

    Prof. Liberman: Did you mean COCA, not COHA? I can find some of your examples on the former but not the latter.

    [(myl) I think that I got them all from COHA. Just checked a couple and they're there. But a lot of COCA overlaps with COHA.]

    Also, it seems the second author (or editor?) of Dictionaries and "That" Dictionary is Wilma R. Ebbitt.

    [(myl) Right, Wilma Rudolph Ebbitt — I left off the final name. Fixed now.]

  10. mira said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

    I don't think Roth's tweets imply that he is personally against the use of "mad" for "angry". I'd be shocked to meet an American who is seriously bothered by this usage. Even people who are up in arms about "irregardless" and singular "they" and "comprised of" say "Don't get mad". I thought he was making fun of M-W for ostentatiously giving us permission to do something nearly everyone does to try and demonstrate that they were a cool, totally not stodgy dictionary.

  11. Bob Ladd said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

    I don't contest that mad in the sense of 'angry' has been around for ages, but I'm not sure that complaining about it is exactly like complaining about parents who let their daughters show their ankles. For some reason this particular peeve seems to have a special status. In the original thread, Ralph Hickok noted that avoiding this usage was one of "Miss Thistlebottom's" sternest admonitions when he was in primary school nearly 70 years ago, and I had the same experience (albeit only 60 years ago). Split infinitives and such like are esoteric peeves, but every 8-year-old speaker of North American English uses mad to mean 'angry' and can readily be made to believe that there's something wrong with doing that. So perhaps even Gabriel Roth had the same experience during his presumably much more recent stint in primary school.

  12. Rube said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

    @Bob Ladd: For me it was 50 years ago. I wonder if we can keep going down decade by decade on this.

  13. Harold said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

    To my ear, mad in the sense of crazy sounds like something a 19th century nanny would use in her vocabulary.

  14. Harold said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 3:41 pm

    @Bob Ladd: I think the discussion about the usage of the word "whom" has shown that having something taught in English class as an absolute doesn't necessarily make it correct. In many ways, the lessons taught in English classes are very much analogous to teaching girls to never show their ankles. I don't see where the analogy fails.

  15. Bloix said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

    I would think that the origin of mad = angry would be metaphorical. As in "mad with rage," which gets a lot of ngram hits, peaking around 1900. The OED 15th and 16th cites support this hypothesis, as the people said to be "mad" are so enraged that they murder or seek to murder innocent people – in the 1425 one, seeking to kill the messenger, literally.
    A third sense, also from mad = insane, is infatuated with ("mad about you," which is not quite as infatuated as "crazy for you").

  16. Victor Mair said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

    difference between "madman" and "mad man"

  17. Breffni said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

    Mira's right: Roth's problem with the M-W tweet was precisely the inoffensiveness of mad=angry, according to his Slate follow-up:

    And yet something about @MerriamWebster's flaunting of its progressive credentials had begun to rub me the wrong way. The "use mad to mean 'angry'" tweet, in particular, seemed lame, like a dad trying to sound cool by talking about the new Mumford and Sons album. Who doesn't use mad to mean angry?

    [(myl) But this makes nonsense of his original complaint. There's a world of difference between "trying to sound cool by talking about the new Mumford and Sons album" and "turning into the 'chill' parent who lets your friends come over and get high".]

  18. mollymooly said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

    The gender-neutral version of "madman" is "crazy person".

  19. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 8:24 pm

    The use of "mad" in a proper name doesn't mean it can't also be one of the other usages. "Mad Cow disease" pretty clearly refers to the dementia brought on by the disease. "Mad Max", I'd argue, is mad in both senses, i.e. prone to berserker rage and insane risk-taking in pursuit of vengeance.

  20. Brett said,

    September 9, 2016 @ 11:19 pm

    When I was six, a classroom aide went around the room once, asking what each of the kindergartners* present wanted to be when they grew up. I said: "A scientist."

    "Oh, a mad scientist."

    "No, just a scientist."

    "Why do you want to be a mad scientist?"

    "I just want to be somebody who does science. Not a mad scientist, like in a movie."

    "Not mad?"

    "No."

    "Okay, so you're just going to be angry."

    *Why is "kindergartners" spelled this way? It represents what seems to be the most common pronunciation, but the loss of the penultimate "e" seems to conflict with both English and German spelling conventions.

  21. phspaelti said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 12:50 am

    The path from "crazy" to "angry" seems to be a common one (Perhaps a form of semantic bleaching?)

    In German "Wut" has gone that way.

    In modern German "verrückt" is the standard word for "crazy". But in Alemannic "veruggt" primarily means "angry", however, similar to English, only in predicative use. In pre-nominal usage it (still) means "(figuratively) crazy".

  22. phspaelti said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 12:52 am

    @Brett: Why is "kindergartners" spelled this way?

    That is the way it is spelled in German:
    Kindergarten — Kindergärtner

  23. Breffni said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 12:55 am

    Mark:

    But this makes nonsense of his original complaint. There's a world of difference between 'trying to sound cool by talking about the new Mumford and Sons album' and 'turning into the 'chill' parent who lets your friends come over and get high

    Those similes seems consistent to me. Roth's story is that the persona of the M-W Tweeter is, in general, like a parent trying too hard to get down with the kids, generally being too lax even for the children's comfort (letting them smoke dope) and on this occasion ("nothing wrong with mad=angry") just looking foolish by ostentatiously approving of something utterly inoffensive ("I really dig Mumford & Sons").

    I agree that you couldn't get from Roth's original tweets that the trigger was lameness rather than wrongness, because he seems to have leapt from disapproving of ostentatious tolerance to disapproving of tolerance itself, and wound up in a misguided rant. Even so, I take his word for it. There seems to be a consensus that AmE mad=angry is uncontroversial, so he's unlikely to be the only one who wondered why M-W felt it needed a public endorsement.

  24. ryan said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 1:12 am

    >To my ear, mad in the sense of crazy sounds like something a 19th century nanny would use in her vocabulary.

    This.

    Am I the only one hear who remembers the Mad Hatter having to be explained – that mad in a distant past on an exotic island called Britain once meant crazy?

    I'll be 50 in a few months. I don't think mad has meant crazy in actual American conversation in a century.

  25. speedwell said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 1:34 am

    I'll be 50 in a few days and I completely agree with ryan.

  26. GH said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 6:54 am

    According to Google ngram, in American English "go crazy" only outpaced "go mad" in the early 80s (and most examples of "mad" in this context do seem to be referring to insanity), and they're still pretty close, so I don't think that's entirely true. Similarly, "mad with power" remains much more common than "crazy with power". I also hold that a mad dog is different from an angry dog.

    By the way, to earlier commenters, the line in Network is "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." (Journalists are not alone in sloppy quotation.)

  27. Adrian said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 8:38 am

    Ryan "that mad in a distant past on an exotic island called Britain once meant crazy"

    It still does here on the exotic island a lot (most?) of the time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spZVZTembTk

  28. Peter S. said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 8:55 am

    In the U.S., "he's utterly mad" means crazy and "he's really mad" means angry. It's interesting how "utterly" and "really" change the meaning of mad when they don't affect the meaning of most adjectives.

  29. Robert Coren said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    Just as another data point, I'm a 70-year-old American, and "mad" = "angry" has been normal for me as long as I can remember. I don't remember whether I suffered any confusion over the distinction made by the Cheshire Cat.

  30. Greg Malivuk said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 10:34 am

    "Utterly" and "really" don't change most adjectives because most adjectives just have one basic meaning. But "angry" isn't the kind of adjective that can be intensified with "utterly", so "utterly mad" can't mean "utterly angry" because "utterly angry" isn't a thing.

  31. Thomas Rees said,

    September 10, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

    @Brett @phspaelti: But isn't a Kindergärtner(in) someone who is in charge of the Kinder? Yeah! Duden has »jemand, der als Erzieher in einem Kindergarten arbeitet«.

  32. Brett said,

    September 11, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

    @Thomas Rees: Of course! That explains where the spelling comes from, and it's obvious how cross-linguistic confusion could lead to its use in English, although it requires the misinterpretation of the most common meaning (in both English and German) of the productive -er suffix as a less common meaning.

  33. Doug said,

    September 11, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

    Speaking of British vs. American "mad":

    The first Harry Potter book contained the passage:

    "Hermione had now started making revision timetables for Harry and Ron, too. It was driving them mad."

    For the US edition, this was changed to:

    "Hermione had now started making study schedules for Harry and Ron, too. It was driving them nuts."

    Did someone at the publisher think that Americans would misinterpret "driving them mad"?

  34. Rebecca said,

    September 11, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

    A propos the Harry Potter words for crazy:

    I teach 4th and 5th grade, and when the HP books were still coming out and were wildly popular, must-reads for a big segment of that demographic, it was interesting to see which Britishisms were entering their active lexicons. I learned of one when I put a lesson n their work plans which I called "Mental Math". The kids got all excited about what could this "insane" math be, and were somewhat let down to find it was just about computing in your head and had nothing to do with Harry Potter. I never head them actively using "mental" n their own speech, though.

  35. Greg Malivuk said,

    September 12, 2016 @ 7:20 am

    @Brett: Given that we have "gradeschooler" and "high schooler" in English (at least in my dialect), it doesn't surprise me that adding -er to "kindergarten" would fit that pattern (of adding it to places) instead of the one you get when you add it to verbs.

    (Also compare: Londoner, New Yorker, Berliner.)

  36. Terry Collmann said,

    September 12, 2016 @ 10:39 am

    A quick look at Google News seems to confirm my suspicion that in Britain we still don't use "mad" to mean "angry", only "crazy", as in, eg, "football-mad", and, of course, Mad About the Boy.

  37. Michael said,

    September 12, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

    Interesting to note, however, that "madness" in US English refers always to insanity, never to anger.

  38. Bloix said,

    September 16, 2016 @ 11:00 am

    Moby Dick (1851) has 29 uses of mad, 27 meaning literally crazy or crazed and two meaning angry. Both "angries" are in dialogue, e.g. "I'll tell ye what it is, men" – cried Stubb to the crew – "it's against my religion to get mad; but I'd like to eat that villainous Yarman – pull, won't ye?"

    Mad = angry is frequent in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and never =insane. But HF is narrated by a character who speaks in non-standard English.

    (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), which does have a 3d person narrator, doesn't have mad at all – it does have angry and crazy.)

    From The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) – a child says:
    "Well," said Georgie [a boy], "anyway, he said somep'n to me that made me mad."
    And the narrator then tells us: "[H]e would not explain to his mother that what had made him 'mad' was Mr. Smith's hasty condemnation of herself."
    So in America in 1918, mad=angry was still slang or childish.

    The Great Gatsby (1925) has 4 mads, two metaphorically crazy ("I'd never seen a girl so mad about her husband"), two literally insane ("a mad man," "a mad act"), none angry. Like HF, this is a book with a first-person narrator, but this one uses educated standard English.

    The Grapes of Wrath (1939) has dozens of mads, all but 2 in dialogue (from uneducated speakers), and all but one of these means angry. The one "=crazy" in dialogue is metaphorical – a farmer says, of neighbors who had left for California, "they weren't mad like me" so they left. The two uses by the narrator mean metaphorically crazy: "mad with apprehension" and (of children) "chased one another madly."

    And that's all I've got time for.

  39. Bloix said,

    September 16, 2016 @ 11:11 am

    PS- I suspect that "I'd like to eat that villainous Yarman" is a typo for "I'd like to beat …" since this is a race to see which boat will reach the whale first, and the next line is "Are ye going to let that rascal beat ye?" Also, it shows that "get mad" meaning become angry has been around since1851.

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