Where did the phrase “batsh*t crazy” come from?

Batshit Crazy Copyright John Boyd 2015

Batshit Crazy Copyright John Boyd 2015

The title question comes from a scholarly page discussing the question of the origins of the phrase “batshit crazy.” The phrase seems to have developed some legitimacy as it is now included in the Oxford English Dictionary. The scholarly citations do back to the 14th century and follow the use of Bat, “Bat’s in The Belfry”, the various meanings and uses of the word Batshit as it evolved to mean crazy and the final development to the phrase Batshit Crazy in the 1980’s.

On my food and diet blog at Coffee Pot Cooking, I follow Dana @ IveGotCake who inspired me to write this post by asking the simple question: “What’s something most people think is old but really isn’t?”  

According to the etymologists, anecdotal evidence suggests that the first use was from the military in the early fifties and might have been a variant of BS. One of the first uses of the word as a substitute for crazy comes from Lt. William Calley of the Mi Lai Massacre. (1971 W. Calley Lieutenant Calley 104: “Most of America’s males were in Korea or World War II or I. They killed, and they aren’t all going batshit.”)

However, the first presentation of the full phrase appears in a 1983 cartoon by P. S. Mueller (the voice of Onion News Radio) captioned: “Full blown batshit crazy and still holding down a productive job.” To the purist’s in the field of etymology, this is not a citation in literature so the honors appear to go to John Shirley who wrote “Heatseeker” in 1989 (“a strikingly legitimate fear of going batshit crazy”. While the etymologists do a good job of tracing the development of the word usage, they do nothing to really explain the meaning of the word.

My epiphany is a shared moment with Tyler. I was showing her mother and aunt a Great House on the Northwest corner of St. Croix and of course I couldn’t resist stirring up the bats by shouting at them very shrilly and having them fly in their random patterns. I also was pointing out the mess then made by pooping on walls, floors and even the ceiling as the flew around the darker room without exiting to go to the sunlight and hence what I thought to be the origin of the phrase “batshit crazy”.

Tyler found one column which was originally blue with a topcoat of pink paint that was sprayed in every direction with an overlay of Bat Guano. That was also the name for the Colonel (“Bat” Guano) in the Dr. Strangelove movie. She took her picture and I got mine so technically she was slightly ahead of me in the visualization of the concept I was explaining and if I make a million from my image, I will share some with her for the inspiration. BTW, this was an innocent afternoon and her mom took the picture of us on the shoreline.

Is it Tyler and me or Tyler and I?

Is it Tyler and me or Tyler and I?

About John Boyd

I have been hiking the hills and beaches of St. Croix Virgin Islands for over 30 years and in retirement have decided to become a Heritage Hiking Guide specializing in the local history, geology, settlers, plant life and environmental changes by all settlers of the last 2000 years but just along the trails I hike.
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2 Responses to Where did the phrase “batsh*t crazy” come from?

  1. I think it’s Tyler and me because you cay say, “There’s Tyler and there’s me” but you can’t say “There’s Tyler and there’s I”.
    And interesting origin of the words. I agree with you – I wish they’d done more to explain the origin meaning.

  2. Sonia says:

    John, it depends if you and Tyler are the subject or object in the sentence. “Tyler and I posed for a photo. The photographer took a picture of Tyler and me.” In either case you can remove Tyler and the sentence still makes sense.

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