Linguistic Corner: Mad as a Hatter

Miloš Matović 1 year ago Comment

“Mad as a hatter” is an English phrase meaning “crazy” and although its origin is unclear, it actually has nothing to do with Lewis Carroll’s memorable character from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

Linguistic Corner: Mad as a Hatter
Lewis Carroll's Hatter by John Tenniel, 1869

There are at least two theories on the origin of this phrase:

    • 1. The most widely accepted theory proposes the saying comes from hat-making as mercury was regularly used in the trade and resulted in mercury poisoning developed by the hatters.
    • 2. The second theory suggests that the phrase may actually be a corruption of an earlier phrase “mad as an adder”, meaning “mad as a viper”.

Whatever the case may be, it seems that madness and hatters came into the English language (almost) hand in hand – Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest mention of the word hatter is in 1389, while the word mad first appeared 10 years later, in 1399.

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