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Tilting at Windmills

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October 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

A WILD HERR....A crucial question from the previous post: is the proper idiom "wild hair up his butt" or "wild hare up his butt"? The latter sounds unlikely, but what do I know?

But hold on a second. I know a lot. Or at least, my auxiliary brain does. Let's check Google!

First check: "wild hair" + "ass" or "butt" returns 78,000 hits. "Wild hare" returns only 25,000 hits.

Second check: what do other people have to say? Roy Edroso is confused about the whole thing, but here is some fellow named John Dyson:

There are two expressions, wild hare and wild hair. The first refers to or compares someone or something to the natural skittishness of breeding hares in spring, especially in March (ergo Lewis Carroll's inclusion of that creature in the Mad Hatter's tea party). To have a wild hair (up one's butt) is a vulgar expression indicating an obsession or fixation of some sort. "Wild" in the first instance denotes erratic behavior like that of hares in rut. In the second instance "wild" characterizes a stray or unruly strand whose indelicate lodgment is the figurative cause of someone's perceived mania.

Disagreeing, in a typical Usnet digression from a discussion of Python programming minutiae, is James Stroud:

I think most Americans say "wild hare up your ass". We do not, in fact, say "wild hair up your ass". Many of us can testify that a hair up one's ass would be nothing terribly unusual and would go completely unnoticed under most circumstances.

[One day later:] We say "wild hare" down in Texas. I think I've heard "bug" before, but I wanted an excuse to vent about the hair v. hare issue in some of these American idioms. I guess I have a <insert idiom here> about it.

And finally, voting for "wild hair," here is word maven Doug Wilson:

The mystery here (at least to me) is how this expression came to be. Lighter gives examples only since the 1950's, but "A Wild Hare" was the title of one of the earliest Bugs Bunny cartoons, 1940 I think, and I'm sure it was a play on the above expression or at least on some conventional expression of that time. Sometimes it is said that the "wild hair" in the rude expression is an ingrown inflamed perianal hair, but this seems retrospective and bogus to me. There is/was an expression "get hared up" meaning something like "get startled" and I wonder whether this mutated into "get a hair up" which was then augmented and clarified in a rude fashion (or maybe it went the other way!). Maybe there also was once a conventional metaphor like "wild hare" = "irresponsible person" or so? Or maybe "a wild hare" = "a wild idea" [for some reason] or even "a wild run"?

Later in the same thread, Rick Kennerly presents the case for the phrase's origin in "wild hare," with references back to Chaucer and Erasmus. Other hints: The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English lists only "wild hair." As Wilson notes above, the first Bugs Bunny cartoon, "A Wild Hare," came out in 1940. The Wikipedia entry, with no source cited, says "The title is a play on 'wild hair.'" Reference.com has no entry for either term. The readers of a Chronicle of Higher Education forum voted 45% to 17% for "wild hair." Cheating a bit and going to my actual physical reference shelf, none of my four slang dictionaries has a listing for either phrase.

That's it. For now, I'm sticking with "wild hair." But it is remarkable what a fantastic timewaster Google can be, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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I though the hair was across the butt, not up it. the bug is up the butt, i think. in any case, a wild hare up the butt sounds like a worse experience than either hair or bug -- although there is that urban myth about gerbils that i won't get into. also, i don't think there are tame hares -- but i haven't googled it yet.

Posted by: eyeball on October 26, 2007 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

Wild hair meaning an irritation or obsession is the one I have always heard(contextually speaking, of course). Rabbit(I hug em) hunts I have no experience with.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on October 26, 2007 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, you drunk.

Posted by: HeavyJ on October 26, 2007 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

The real question is why you would say either. That's just gross, man. I will never look at your cat the same way.

Posted by: shortstop on October 26, 2007 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, personally, I'm not very comfortable discussing butts on a blog. (Looking at pictures, of course, is another matter altogether.)

Posted by: JeffII on October 26, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

I apologize for my besotted intrusion into this cerebral discourse.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08 on October 26, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

Was it not a "wild hair" that kept Rush out of the military?

Posted by: bohammer on October 26, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

And this is the best political blog in America??

Posted by: Spr on October 26, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

The much-needed follow up questions:

Does "stuck up" refer to those who have a "stick up their ass"? Or is it just a nose reference?

What is the etymology of "enema"? And does "colon hydrotherapy" actually sound worse than the thing for which it is apparently a euphemism?

Why do Americans use "fanny" to denote only the rear, while the British consider it a vulva? And why do so many refer to the vulva as "vagina"? I've never exposed my penis and scrotum and had it refered to as merely one portion, such as "urethra" or "glans". Then again, maybe I just need to expose myself more often and see if it happens. And if anyone suggests I've only tested a small sample size, I'll laugh with you.

Posted by: jon on October 26, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

First check: "wild hair" + "ass" or "butt" returns 78,000 hits.

The thought of the normally straight-laced Mr. Drum sitting there typing that into Google is hilarious to me.

This post is awesome.

Posted by: Xanthippas on October 26, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

But it is remarkable what a fantastic timewaster Google can be, isn't it?

Good thing you're not Ezra, or you'd be saying, "It certainly is remarkable what a fantastic waste of time my brain is!"

Posted by: RSA on October 26, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Google wildcards are good for this kind of search, demanding proximity but allowing any words in between.

But in this case they're rather puzzling.

"wild hair ** ass": 1020
"wild hare ** ass": 158000

"wild hair ** butt": 49400
"wild hare ** butt": 158000

"wild hair ** arse": 49200
"wild hare ** arse": 1

"wild hair ** bum": 35100
"wild hare ** bum": 2

There seems to be an Atlantic divide in usage here.

Posted by: Minivet on October 26, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Ambrose Bierce once noted that "imminent death concentrates the mind wonderfully." I see that with the diminishing threat from the fires, Kevin, you have let your mind wander rather far afield. It's good to have some "down"time I suppose, but down there?

Posted by: TJM on October 26, 2007 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Carroll's hare isn't a "wild hare," but a "March Hare," which makes his support for the quadruped-based spelling kind of weak, IMHO.

Posted by: Cash on October 26, 2007 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Heh heh heh. You're just trying to tweak some of the "how can you blog about that when <very serious stuff> is going on in the world?" trolls...

Posted by: idlemind on October 26, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Rush Limbaugh the expert on wild hair up his butt? Isn't that how he got out of the draft?

Posted by: jerry on October 26, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Will somebody get rabbit out of my out of ass? Pooh? And fuck you Drum for giving Christopher Robbins the idea.

Posted by: eeyore on October 26, 2007 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

The expression I've always had is "he's got a hair across his ass about something". In that usage, it pretty much has to be hair, not hare.

Posted by: Toast on October 26, 2007 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of things:

"The thought of the normally straight-laced Mr. Drum sitting there typing . . ."

It's strait-laced.

"Wild hair" makes sense. As hares are by definition wild.

The typical mistake is "hair-brained." It is "hare-brained."

Posted by: paxr55 on October 26, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it was the wild hare that crawled up there and died.

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on October 26, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Wild hare? Richard Gere might know about that. It has always been my belief that were were talking about hairs not large gerbils.

Posted by: Scott on October 26, 2007 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

"His blog on the Washington Monthly web site offers what I consider the best mixture of insight and content, much of which either cannot be found elsewhere, or which ordinary blogs do not deem worthy of comment..."

Posted by: Grumpy on October 26, 2007 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Wild hare" or "wild hair"? Decisions, decisions.

These incredibly complex discussions about the proper or correct use of such idioms is why I prefer the term "bug up your ass."

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on October 26, 2007 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

Gotta love those internets, empowering the Too Much Information Revolution.

Posted by: frankly0 on October 26, 2007 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

For now, I'm sticking with "wild hair."

Scott: Richard Gere might know about that.

Point goes to Kevin. The hare, gerbil and hamster bit is an urban legend.

Posted by: has407 on October 26, 2007 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

Go to: http://cdbaby.com/cd/calebolin and listen to track #1. The others are pretty good, too.

Posted by: Walter Olin on October 26, 2007 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Completely OT. But then, Kevin, you obviously have FAR too much time on your hands.

Further down the road of perfidy we go:

US Military Ignored Evidence of Iraqi-Made EFPs
by Gareth Porter [IPS]

When the U.S. military command accused the Iranian Quds Force last January of providing the armour-piercing EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) that were killing U.S. troops, it knew that Iraqi machine shops had been producing their own EFPs for years, a review of the historical record of evidence on EFPs in Iraq shows.

The record also shows that the U.S. command had considerable evidence that the Mahdi army had gotten the technology and the training on how to use it from Hezbollah rather than Iran.

The command, operating under close White House supervision, chose to deny these facts in making the dramatic accusation that became the main rationale for the present aggressive U.S. stance toward Iran. ...
__________

[Emphasis mine.]

Yeah, those culturally-advanced bronze spear tips could ONLY come from the wily, "nefarious" Iranians. The "backwards" Iraqis still use flint chips! Uh-huh.

Isn't it peculiar that a government which "informed" us that the Iraqis were so sophisticated they had secretly re-constituted a nuclear weapons program and surreptitiously managed to stockpile TONS of chemical and biological weapons now seeks to convince us that they're too "dumb" to make their own EVERYDAY explosive devices?

It certainly boggles MY mind to witness the sheer, unabashed audacity inherent in this BUllSHit war-propaganda. In the words of one of the Regime's undoubted mentors, "They must think we are nitwits and nincompoops!"

Posted by: Poilu on October 26, 2007 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

I first heard the expression "he/she/I caught/got a wild hair" (+ "up his/her/my ass" if you ask what they were talking about - they never explain the meaning for you). I never had the impression they were talking about hares. I always thought they were referring to being aroused to action by something prickly stuck in their assholes. And that was in Texas, where I have never heard the word "hare" (except in the context of tortoise races), only "jackrabbit". Don't they stick irritating things up animal butts, like bulls', to make them feistier at the rodeo?

Posted by: jussumbody on October 26, 2007 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

Don't know about the hare/hair thing but one time I asked an old man how he was doing and he replied, "Rough as a corncob and twice as long". I'm not sure where that comes from but I'm guessing it was from someone who didn't have a sears catalog handy.

Jim

Posted by: fljim on October 26, 2007 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

[I have done you the courtesy of deleting your ranting. You would be horrified in the morning when you are sober if you read that rot. --Mod]

Posted by: Swan on October 26, 2007 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

And this is the best political blog in America??

And this thread is one of the reasons why.

But seriously, Kevin. Do you really know about the wild hair now, or do you just know what the knowledge is, and where to look for it in case you really need to know?

Posted by: thersites on October 26, 2007 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You seem to be short on things to write about, so here's an idea:

The Republican War on Science, as exemplified by the kicking to the curb of DNA legend James D. Watson for discussing how human evolution has worked over the last 50,000 years. Michael Gerson and the Discover Institute have been denouncing Watson and now he's been forced out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

It would be a perfect topic for you! I can't understand why you've been dodging it for ten days ...

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 27, 2007 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Cut Kevin some slack. Everybody has a bad hair day now and then.

Posted by: JS on October 27, 2007 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

Is this a regional expression? I've never heard it.

Posted by: denise on October 27, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

An excellent satirical riposte, suitably parsed as Coulter-esque diatribe:

Just for the Sake of Argument, What Would It Look Like If a President Didn't Give a Damn About Terrorism?
by David Michael Green

"Thank God George Bush is our president."

Posted by: Poilu on October 27, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Is this a regional expression?

I think it's southern. I grew up in the Northeast and never heard it until I joined the Air Force and went to Texas and Mississippi.

Posted by: thersites on October 27, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

I've always heard bug - this is the first time I've ever heard this expression with either hair or hare. (Being a lagomorph myself, I would rather not have the latter up my ass.)

paxr55, in fact it is straight-laced, not strait-laced. One can have straight laces, but can one lace one's straits?

Posted by: rabbit on October 27, 2007 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Those who enjoy this kind of question
will enjoy hitting the "Surprise Me" link
at Michael Quinion's excellent World Wide Words

Posted by: joel hanes on October 27, 2007 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you do realize that the gummit now has a file on you for having googled the word "butt".

Posted by: Kenji on October 27, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

... Michael Gerson and the Discover Institute have been denouncing Watson and now he's been forced out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Steve: I'm agape! Watson & Crick were to biology basically what Einstein was to Physics. Can you point me to some leads on this development? (I hadn't heard about it, myself.)

I'm not at all surprised by the malevolent Browshirting that's arisen in this country against academia. (Disgusted, but not "surpised" under this Third Reich clone government.) But I am flabbergasted that these NeoConNazi goons could actually pull it off against a universally renowned scientist of this caliber.

This is like living in the goddam Dark Ages!

Posted by: Poilu on October 27, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

No shit.

Someone apparently needs a LOT more fiber in their diet.

Posted by: Poilu on October 27, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking of Pooh - Worst name ever for a cookbook.

Don't they usually have editors to catch that kind of stuff?

(If you don't get it say it out loud a few times.)

Posted by: Joshua Norton on October 27, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Goin' wild ass on a Friday night!

This is fun:

http://books.google.com/

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on October 27, 2007 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't a "wild hair"keep a notable drug addicted chickenhawk from doing his part in the Vietnam War?
He's on AM radio every day, I think.

Posted by: merlallen on October 27, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

someone must gots-ta a wild larry craig up their size 7 poop shoot?

Posted by: amygdala on October 27, 2007 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

"But it is remarkable what a fantastic timewaster Google can be, isn't it?"

Indeed. We have little idea what's hit us. And it will be no easier to get a grasp of what's hit us, because it will continue to hit us at an increasing pace for a long time.

Posted by: Fel on October 27, 2007 at 6:46 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I love your blog, Kevin. You're like I would be, if I had a little bit more free time.

Posted by: captcrisis on October 27, 2007 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

Well, of course it's "hair". A "hare" wouldn't fit, probably.

Moreover, if you somehow managed to get a wild hare up your butt, your reaction would be (most probably) screaming agony or (I suppose, conceivably) perverse sexual pleasure. Neither of those reactions corresponds the to behavior commonly described as "having a wild ha[i]r[e] up your butt."

On the other hand, having a boil up your butt as a result of an ingrown hair would produce the type of behavior the phrase describes.

Posted by: rea on October 27, 2007 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

Steve: I'm agape! Watson & Crick were to biology basically what Einstein was to Physics. Can you point me to some leads on this development? (I hadn't heard about it, myself.)

Watson got in trouble for saying that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans. This, of course, is what notorious racist Steve Sailer means when he speaks of "how human evolution has worked over the last 50,000 years." Watson himself later apologized, and acknowledged that “there is no scientific basis for such a belief.” Watson, of course, has more integrity than Mr. Sailer.

Posted by: rea on October 27, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

This whole problem began in the 50's with the introduction of Wildroot, the use of which produced all the wild hairs of which we speaketh of which herein...

Posted by: chance on October 27, 2007 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Watson's dismissal is way overdue.

He's been making sexist remarks for years---although, I wasn't aware of his racist tendencies until now.

Posted by: john d'oh on October 27, 2007 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Watson also once suggested that if a gene determining sexuality were isolated, people would want to abort fetuses who were likely to be gay.

This latest is kind of a weird situation all around. When he apologized for the most recent set of comments, he had the distinct air of someone who didn't even remember making them. Does this guy suffer from some form of dementia? Serious question.

Posted by: shortstop on October 27, 2007 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I didn't word that very well; meant to say that Watson suggested that people should abort fetuses who were likely to be gay. Which is rather different than pointing out that there are assholes out there who would want to.

Posted by: shortstop on October 27, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

When my father was feeling really good, he would say " i'm in tall cotton". that is a Southern expression.
My big brother would say, "I'm shitting in tall cotton".

Posted by: merlallen on October 27, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

"wild hare up his butt" is the saying

Title: "Back To The Warning Track: El Molino Circle Street Baseball and the Dreaded Hideaway Pitch" by Tom Tessier (Fountain Valley, CA)

"...Often when Anthony would catch he would get some wild hare up his butt and out-of-the-blue come flying out towards me with the ball in his hand. His intention was to take my head off and inflict serious pain as he would huck the ball at me as hard as he could. He'd then run past me and try to get away, but I would chase after him and huck my glove at him. I don't think either of us ever ended up hitting each other.
...."

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/submit/Tessier_Tom1.stm

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on October 27, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK
Ambrose Bierce once noted that "imminent death concentrates the mind wonderfully." …. TJM at 9:57 PM
That would have been Dr. Johnson "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." from Boswell's Life of Johnson

Checking the etymology,

It's an American expression meaning to do something at the spur of the moment without really thinking, spontaneity. It originated from "had a wild hare up my ". If you had a wild rabbit in your backside... you'd probably jump without thinking. It most likely originated in the Mid-West where hare were commoner'n a fly on a horses' .. (and so was vulgar language). But as it was shaved down, it can now be used as "I had a wild hare to go to Vegas".

Better than a wild gerbil I presume

Posted by: Mike on October 27, 2007 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Is the "wild hare" "wild hair" discussion harebrained or hairbrained?

SYLLABICATION: hare·brained
PRONUNCIATION: hârbrnd
ADJECTIVE: Foolish; flighty: a harebrained scheme.
USAGE NOTE: The first use of harebrained dates to 1548. The spelling hairbrained also has a long history, going back to the 1500s when hair was a variant spelling of hare. The hair variant was preserved in Scotland into the 18th century, and as a result it is impossible to tell exactly when people began writing hairbrained in the belief that the word means “having a hair-sized brain” rather than “with no more sense than a hare.” While hairbrained continues to be used and confused, it should be avoided in favor of harebrained which has been established as the correct spelling.

http://www.bartleby.com/61/43/H0064300.html

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on October 27, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

I've always heard bug - this is the first time I've ever heard this expression with either hair or hare. (Being a lagomorph myself, I would rather not have the latter up my ass.)

paxr55, in fact it is straight-laced, not strait-laced. One can have straight laces, but can one lace one's straits?


I've heard "bug" too and agree that wild hare makes no sense for both logical and logistical reasons. No logical sense, because as noted earlier, hares are by definition wild. Logistical nonsense because hares simply won't fit, as one wisely observed upthread. Has anyone checked Brewer's?

Regarding straitlaced: Webster's Ninth New Collegiate explains that "strait" derives from the Old French "estreit" with roots in the L "Strictus," or strict. To straiten, in fact, means "to narrow or confine."

Over time, English speakers (and spellers) unfamiliar with the less common "strait" (and its compound forms straitlaced and straitjacket) spelled it with the more familiar "gh" (straightlaced) although the spelling makes no linguistic sense. Straight is more at "stretch," from the Middle English streght.


In point of fact, the entries in Webster's Ninth for both "straitlaced" and "straitjacket" appear under the older and primary spelling, but concede the existence of the alternate (but not preferred) "straightlaced."

Posted by: paxr55 on October 27, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Y'know, Steve ...

If you got your own blog you could write about Watson's ode to The Bell Curve until your fingers fell off.

Much more productive than constantly begging Kevin for a post, and less annoying to us.

Posted by: Thlayli on October 27, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

You folks sure have gotten your butt hairs in a knot over nothing...

Or is that butt hares?

Posted by: josef on October 27, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

"If you got your own blog you could write about Watson's ode to The Bell Curve until your fingers fell off."

Nah, he already has an outlet over at the white nationalist site VDARE. Presumably part of the point of commenting here and on other liberal blogs is to try to influence folks who might find something slightly skeevy about a site obsessed with "Virginia Dare, the first child born to English immigrants in the New World". Of course, in that case they're not likely to waste time listening to a fellow who has argued that the (vastly exaggerated) "anarchy" in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina could and should have been predicted, based on the fact that so much of the population was black (and hence kinda dumb and lacking sense and self-control), if it hadn't been for those meddling PC multi-cultis.

I must say though - despite it being even less pleasant than having a crazed lagomorph embedded in my posterior - Sailer's right about one thing - race does matter. Not in the way he claims, of course, but that hate and fear of black people - the terror-ridden fantasies of savage black bucks rampaging, looting, raping and killing, images that come from the slave plantations of the pre-Civil War South, and which were then used to legitimize the reign of racial terrorism which blossomed afterwards - would be all too relevant in the relief effort and the media. Hence we have the famous photographs of black people "looting" food and white people "finding" food, and the refugees attempting to escape by foot over the Crescent City Connection bridge who were turned back by armed police officers from Gretna, and so on and on.

Posted by: Dan S. on October 27, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

With Republicans and many Democrats voting for the end of inheritance taxes, our political economy now has a politically wild heir up its ass.

Posted by: Brojo on October 27, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Incidentally, what set off that fuss was when Watson " . . . told The Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”"

And it went downhill from there. And as john and shortstop pointed out, this isn't some unexpected and uncharacteristic outburst:
"In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. . . . He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that ” stupidity” could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great.”

Posted by: Dan S. on October 27, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Or maybe our president is a wild heir up America's butt.

Posted by: Brojo on October 27, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

That's 'wild heir' up your butt.

Posted by: slanted tom on October 27, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

brojo and I think similar thoughts from time to time. Glad to share space with brojo 'cause he's one of the folks that know what's really going on.

Posted by: slanted tom on October 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's "hair", see Google and amazon's books

http://books.google.com/books?um=1&q=%22wild+hair+up+your%22

Amazon: http://xrl.us/7rse

Posted by: Ben Hyde on October 27, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Much obliged to all for the needed clarifications regarding Watson. I'd say Steve Sailer put that rather obtusely, at best.

And Dan S., "Yeowch!" Thanks for the quotes and link, which clearly indicate that distinction in one field of endeavor need not insinuate the slightest modicum of "couth".

Posted by: Poilu on October 27, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

The phrase originated with Edward Carson, who used it in the September 1895 edition of the London Illustrated Quarterly. Carson referred to an earl whose homosexuality was the subject of rumors as having a "Wilde heir up his butt."

Posted by: Arthur Saville on October 27, 2007 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

no-one's offered a convincing explanation of what exactly a "wild hair" is , let alone what exactly having one up your ass is supposed to be like.

Obviously, there's absolutely no doubt about what the experience of having a wild hare up your ass would be like.

Posted by: billy on October 28, 2007 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

My mistake, someone has tried...

rea: On the other hand, having a boil up your butt as a result of an ingrown hair would produce the type of behavior the phrase describes.

An idiom fails in its primary task if it needs footnotes to be understood. If you want to imply discomfort from a boil up your ass, why not cut out the middle man and simply say "he's got a boil up his ass"?

Posted by: billy on October 28, 2007 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

While I'm on a roll, this post is a near-perfect reflection of most political debates on this blog: a simple idea, a simple question, and a hundered different interpretations (along with some who miss the point entirely.)

Let's take it step by step:

The fact is, the idea of a "wild hair" is meaningless.

The "wild hair" occurs nowhere else in the language, except in the context of a bad haircut, and even then the reference is to a whole unit of collected hairs, not an individual follicle.

How can an inanimate object be wild? It can't, and therefore it has no inherent ability to irritate in the way that the idiom implies. Even when positioned up the ass, it is not an irritant, since the vast majority of humanity has hairs in the most ridiculous places, including there, and they cause no irritation whatsoever.

Therefore, for the idiom to make any sense, this particular hair must be "wild" for another reason that makes it extraordinary when compared to other hairs. Since that reason is unstated, the idiom is rendered meaningless. As I said, the need for footnotes rather robs it of any pithyness. The idiom is now the subject of endless pointless speculation like this.

A wild hare, on the other hand, is erratic and uncontrollable and troublesome even when it's not up your ass. It's nature needs no further explanation.

As identified by Carroll, the "March Hare" refers specifically to the behaviour of hares in springtime, when they do literally jump and contort themselves in crazed and random movements.
This is where "wild" element fits in. (Hares are not mad all the time, only in spring, often thought to begin in March.)

To an average English person, for whom the image of a march hare as a crazed irritant is immediately familiar, the idiom is perfectly understandable.

Wherever the idiom originated, I suspect the person who coined it did not intend to confuse, or indeed to generate reams of speculation before his meaning was understood.

I re-state- A "wild hair" on its own is a meaningless concept, bereft of the ability to irritate.

A wild hare on the other hand...

Posted by: billy on October 28, 2007 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

In Iowa, we used to say, "He's got a cob up his butt."

I'm pretty sure it means the same thing. A cob up your butt makes you a) walk funny, and b) take extraordinary actions.

Posted by: cmac on October 28, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

Yup, it's always good to see the science-loving reality-based community leaping so ardently to the defense of the most distinguished living American scientist. Clearly, science comes before politics to the commenters around here!

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 28, 2007 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

So go post about it yourself. You have multiple platforms. Sheesh.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on October 28, 2007 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

That's all well and good, billy, but your detailed and logical step-by-step ends before explaining how a perhaps eight- or nine-pound animal comes to be up one's butt.

Not that I belong to the "wild hair" camp, mind you; I think the expression in either form is bereft of value.

Posted by: shortstop on October 28, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

First: Kevin, I love this stuff. Please don't ever stop your musings!

Second: I have the abridged "Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial English" by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley from 1921, which was my Grandmother's.

There is no entry for Wild Hare or Wild Hair. The closest is Wild Cat, which, according to this dictionary, meaning reckless, hazardous, or unsound, of course, and derives the the bank notes of a failed bank in Michigan that had a panther on it. (There is a little more detail. If anyone is interested, feel free to email me.)

Unless this phrase is in the full, seven-volume edition of this dictionary, it appears that it was not in use as late as 1921 but showed up in the Bugs Bunny cartoon in 1940. Is it possible the phrase actually derives from the Bugs Bunny cartoon?

Posted by: kfrey on October 28, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm thinking about this problem way more than is seemly, but sometimes you just have to, you know, let the obsession run its course.

Moreover, Billy's analysis struck me as very persuasive. I can add only a few more ideas.

Bawdy idioms must work on a bawdy level: They generally have roots in the farm, the tavern, the military barracks, the brothel...

Certainly the first form of the idiom in question used older English spellings-- not "butt" or "ass," for example, but "arse."

I won't link it here (it's a little off color), but a simple google search of "hair arse" (the alternate spelling!) took me directly to the urban dictionary and an enlightening entry. Apparently gnomes are involved, and more bawdiness, and the spelling is "hair."

I suggest, finally that the original construction was "hair up your ..."

"Wild hare" is also in the available lexicon, and the term is sometimes pressed into service, without much aforethought, if only to add emphasis to the image.

Brewer's notes that Erasmus, in his Aphorisms, writes that "Hares are wilder in marshes from the absence of hedges and cover."

So hares, although wild, can be or act in a wilder fashion under certain circumstances. Could it have been originally "wild as a marsh hare"?

so "Wild as March [or marsh] hare" is an ancient idiom. And "hair up yer arse" equally ancient (see urbandictionary.com using the alternate spelling "arse.") Is it any wonder that the two idioms would be conflated from time to time?

Posted by: paxr55 on October 28, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

First check: "wild hair" + "ass" or "butt" returns 78,000 hits.

I'm surprised it was just 78,000. Reminds me of the time my 7 year old son wanted to find information on cats. So he started googling "cat", "meow", "pussy cat" ... that's when I stepped in and said I'd better try clicking the resulting links!

Posted by: Fred on October 28, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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