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What are Some Euphemisms for Being Crazy?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A euphemism is a phrase or word that politely or vaguely describes someone or something. In terms of describing someone as crazy, there are enough euphemisms to drive you batty. It’s also notable that most mental health professionals resent the term crazy because it has negative connotations. They may not use euphemisms but instead stick to the diagnostic terms of a person’s mental illness. Alternately, they may refer to a person’s mental health issues as a disease, rather than using crazy to describe a person’s behavior.

Crazy in itself is a hard word to define, since many people use it in exaggerated form to denote a momentary mental lapse or a feeling of stress. “You are driving me crazy,” is code for saying, “You’re making me angry," or “You’re annoying me.” People with mental illness may actually refer to themselves as crazy, but plenty of people without actual illness do so too.

How polite a euphemism for crazy is often used to depend on social ranking. For instance, Howard Hughes was frequently referred to as eccentric, rather than being called a loony. Some of the more negative terms for insanity were used toward those of poorer economic standing. As many point out, eccentricity is affordable in the rich, but is ill afforded by those of the poor and middle class, perhaps accounting for the different terms.

There are huge numbers of euphemisms for going insane, but some refer more to a person's level of intelligence. For instance the phrase, "the lights are on but nobody’s home," more likely suggests that a person has mental deficits rather than a person who is insane. Similarly the following phrases may suggest low IQ rather than insanity:

  • A few bricks short of a load
  • Five cans short of a six-pack
  • Not firing on all cylinders
  • An olive short of a pizza
  • Four quarters short of a dollar

For actual euphemisms that refer to insanity, there are many to choose from. A person who is crazy may be labeled nuts, kooky, loony, an oddball, a space cadet, mad, a basket case, a wreck, potty or loopy. These last two are more familiar in the UK than in the US. In addition to one or two word descriptions, there are many phrases expressing general nuttiness. These include:

  • Has a screw loose
  • Is Bugged Out
  • Should be in the Bughouse
  • Mad as hatter
  • Mad as a monkey on a trike
  • Lost his/her marbles
  • Belongs in the booby hatch

Although euphemisms are generally meant to be vague, many of these are quite pointed and hurtful. Applied to a person with an actual mental illness or a person of lower IQ, they are about as kind as calling a person any other kind of name. They at once reduce the person’s illness to a humorous phrase, and additionally show no pity or empathy for what can be legitimate and extensive suffering. Mental health professionals may be right when correcting others about using such phrases, especially when they are used to describe those truly in need of professional care. At the very least, perhaps these terms are best used in metaphoric, self-referential, and exaggerated ways rather than to actually refer to someone who is ill.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By jessiwan — On Dec 07, 2019

How about "cray cray"? It sounds quite cute.

By anon132315 — On Dec 06, 2010

or how about mad as a box of frogs? - Andrew Leakey

By StormyKnight — On Nov 10, 2010

@DinoLeash: Howard Hughes had obsessive compulsive disorder and was a recluse. He developed his illness at an early age. He was obsessed with the size of peas and used a special fork to separate them by size before he ate.

He would also lock himself in his movie room for months. He would sit naked watching films over and over again pointing out flaws. When his staff entered he didn’t allow them to look at him. He would use tissues to in order not to get germs. He would save his empty milk bottles and use the bathroom in them when he finished.

If he was around someone who was sick, he would burn his suit. He also used tissue to open doors. He preferred to keep to himself in a germ-free zone. He was in constant fear of being contaminated by other people.

By DinoLeash — On Nov 10, 2010

What was Howard Hughes mental illness?

By BelugaWhale — On Oct 05, 2010

@ellaesans - I think you and sevenseas might be on to some great comedy here, but I really feel that these aren't really euphemisms for being crazy, but being dingy - or stupid. It invokes images of some one standing there staring at you blankly while you're talking or asking them a question to me when you say that they are "missing" something. Know what I mean?

By ellaesans — On Oct 05, 2010

@sevenseas - That is too funny! I have never heard that one, but I definitely feel like this is a list that can go on forever. So I will add my two cents (and two phrases):

The elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor.

The mall is open but no one is shopping.

By sevenseas — On May 14, 2008

How about two tacos short of a combination plate?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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