Thursday, October 30, 2008


Carol from Traverse City, Michigan, asked about the word crackpot.

Crackpot shows up in 1883 in Broadside Ballad (Farmer): “My aunty knew lots, and called them crack-pots.” Earlier, in the 16th century, the term in vogue for an impaired intellect was crack-brain.

The immediate analogy is to a cooking or storage vessel that has been cracked, and thus compromised as a useful tool. The use of pot wasn’t much of a reach. At one point in history--starting around the early part of the 15th century--the human skull was referred to as “the pot of the head.” In Latin, that was olla capitis, and that term appeared in medical dictionaries and textbooks as a synonym for cranium.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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