"toke the wild hair" -- Query

Rick Kennerly rick at MOUSEHERDER.COM
Fri May 31 22:37:29 UTC 2002

><))));>"Wild hair" is a mystery too, but at least it's one I'm
><))));>familiar with:
><))));>"get/have a [wild] hair [up one's ass]" means either

I've always understood the popular "wild hair" to have origins in the older
"wild hare", itself linked by some to "mad as a marsh hare" thought to be
first from Erasmus who claimed that "hares are wilder in the marshes," and
which morphed with popular use to "mad as a March Hare," which fit rustic
English observations because buck hares are said to be wild frolickers in
March, the breeding season (OED). But even before Erasmus (I think in Praise
of Folly in about 1680), Chaucer used "mad as a hare" (Friar's Prologue).
March Hare and lunacy have been linked for centuries in England.  Also note
the Scottish, Robbie-Burns-sounding, "angrie as ane hair" from Fergusson's
Scottish Proverbs, as a synonym for crazy.

To string it out a bit, Mad as a March Hare also has ties to the phrase Mad
as a Hatter because of the mercury poisoning endemic in 18 & 19th century
hatters, who were frequently poisoned processing rabbit pelts for felt to
make hats (mercuric nitrate was used--perhaps to remove the hair from the
skin, but I don't really know--in the felting process).   Of course, Lewis
Carroll tied it all together for modern readers in Alice in Wonderland
(1865) by giving us both the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in the same book,
but both Thackeray in Pendennis (1849) and Haiburton in The Clockmaker
(1837) used Mad as a Hatter in print before Carroll.

Indeed, I've seldom found a reference, particularly pictorial, to a Mad
Hatter that didn't also include a rabbit, frequently a rather zany looking
and--I'm sure--quite mad March Hare.




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