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What Is a Conniption Fit?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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A conniption is a sudden, violent emotional outburst or fit generally triggered by shocking news or an unexpected turn of events. This is typically a slang or informal term, with American origins though the exact source of the phrase is unknown. It can be used with other expressions like "hissy fit" or "tantrum," though there are subtle differences between each of these outbursts.

Basic Meaning

Unlike a tantrum, which could be triggered with little outside provocation, a conniption is often an anticipated response to incredibly bad or disappointing news. For example, someone who is already running late for an important meeting, and then encounters a road block on the way to it, may go into "conniptions." It is generally characterized by a tirade of strong language accompanied by signs of frustration, rage, and even sadness. Sometimes a person having a conniption is reduced to stutters and incomprehensible sounds or phrases.

Usage and Differences from Similar Terms

Some people use "conniption" interchangeably with other descriptors such as "temper tantrum" or "hissy fit." While each phrase can describe a violent emotional outburst, there are some subtle differences. An emotionally immature person experiencing frustration or disappointment is likely to have a temper tantrum. For example, a child who drops an ice cream cone might have such a tantrum.

A person with a histrionic personality or poor anger management skills might have a hissy fit when faced with disappointment or denial, a response generally seen as immature or inappropriate for the situation. In contrast to this, however, a conniption could be triggered whenever an otherwise rational person is confronted with an irrational set of circumstances. Under such conditions, an emotional response may very well be anticipated, although many people see a conniption as an inappropriate momentary lapse of reason regardless of the cause.

Source for "Conniption"

The origins of the term "conniption" are not exactly clear, although many sources place the first known usage around the 1830s. Some people theorize the word "conniption" is literally a corruption of the word "corruption," which at one time described feelings of anger or sadness. Others believe the word "conniption" was formed as a nonsense word, suggesting a mock Latin origin, or reflecting the types of sounds that might be voiced during such a fit.

There was also an informal English word, canapsha, which had roughly the same meaning as "conniption" in the early 19th century. It is even possible that the phrase "conniption" arose from the Yiddish language. Yiddish words like knish are routinely pronounced with both the hard "K" and "N" sounds, in much the same way as "conniption."

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon962777 — On Jul 25, 2014

Great definition and explanation! I had just attempted to describe what I thought it meant, from when I had heard my mother, and her mother, use it years ago, - which resulted in me Bing!ng it - and we actually used several of the same phrases! You must be a genius! Seriously, well done!

By seag47 — On Feb 19, 2013

My coworker had a conniption fit last week. The boss had just demoted her, and she started throwing around everything she could lift while yelling. She held nothing back, and she wound up getting fired instead.

By shell4life — On Feb 19, 2013

@healthy4life – Yes, I believe it was. Often, if a person is angry enough to let circumstances get the best of her in public, she will lose all control and just start screaming things that don't make sense.

I had a friend who caught her boyfriend with another woman in a restaurant. She was so angry that she threw water on both of them and started growling and shouting her words at the same time. It was a very scary experience for everyone involved, and though they may not have been able to interpret her words, there was no mistaking her intentions.

By healthy4life — On Feb 19, 2013

I've seen couples fighting in public before, and there have been times when women screamed their words so loudly that I couldn't tell what they were saying. Was this a conniption fit?

By StarJo — On Feb 18, 2013

My mother used to say that I was having a temper tantrum when I pitched a fit as a young child. However, once I became a teenager, she started calling them conniption fits instead.

I've always associated temper tantrums with children and conniption fits with adults. To me, conniption fits occur when a person has had all they can take. Children don't let frustration build up over time and then release it when one more thing happens.

By anon303715 — On Nov 15, 2012

I am a Catholic and have never seen any such "fits" taking place in Catholic rituals, as described by anon58044. Perhaps those in the so-called Catholic Charismatic movement might exhibit such phenomena, but they are a rather controversial spiritual movement practiced by some Catholics, and their activities take place in prayer meetings and such outside official liturgical contexts (aside from rare cases of abuse). They therefore have nothing to do with the Church's official liturgy or ritual.

Although I personally avoid the charismatic stuff like the plague and have therefore never witnessed such things first hand, my understanding is that it's very much like the things that go on at Pentecostal meetings, and in fact is rooted in Protestant Pentecostalism.

In any case, since the "Catholic Charismatic" movement originated in the late 60s - early 70s, the hypothesis that the word "conniption" may originate in Ecclesial Latin is unlikely at best.

By anon296934 — On Oct 13, 2012

@anon58044: Are these like the sort of things you may see in Pentecostal services?

By anon154518 — On Feb 21, 2011

I am impressed by the exceptional description of what a "conniption fit" is and the descriptors used to assist in describing a human emotion; an oft-times difficult-to-do procedure.

By anon77743 — On Apr 15, 2010

A conniption is an aneurysm or (non-sexual) stroke. Also, it can be a seizure. There are more severe varieties of conniption fits.

By anon75183 — On Apr 05, 2010

Great description! I just had one a while ago when my children destroyed my living room!

By anon58044 — On Dec 29, 2009

Great explanation here. However I have also seen the word "conniption" used to describe the fits which strike some individuals during elaborately emotional rituals held in the Catholic Church -- could it thus have a (vulgate) Latin origin after all?

By anon51513 — On Nov 06, 2009

I don't know. Oxford English's Dictionary is the source for conniption fit definitions in the UK.

By anon13240 — On May 22, 2008

Wow. This is dead on. The most perfect definition of a conniption fit I have ever seen. Webster has nothin on you guys.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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