You probably hear people saying things like “that’s crazy,” all the time. You may find yourself using the word when you stumble across something ridiculous, strange, or silly. Sometimes, life is pretty out-there, and you want a way to express that.
But like with other pieces of language our culture has decided to phase out lately, “crazy” has a complicated past and stigma attached to it. Using the word can be insulting to people living with a mental illness.
The Origins of “Crazy”
The word “crazy” comes from the word “craze,” which comes from the Middle English word “crasen”, which meant to crush or become cracked, or to be diseased or deformed. In the 1570s, “crazy” meant “diseased or sickly.” In the decades after, it was used both to describe something that is broken or cracked and to describe a person with a mind that is “deranged.”
Clearly, the word has had an overwhelmingly negative connotation. It wasn’t until the 1920s when jazz musicians began using the word to mean something was “cool” or “exciting.” Today, the word has a variety of different meanings depending on how it’s used. It can be used to describe an event or object that is particularly outside of the norm. It can also be used to shame someone or their behavior.
Why “Crazy” is Problematic
In recent years, many people living with mental illness or people who work in the mental health field have been rethinking the use of the word “crazy”. Specifically, when it is used to demean people who have a mental illness.
Mental illness is never a person’s fault. But calling someone “crazy” has negative connotations that suggest the opposite: there is something wrong with them. It places the blame squarely on the individual.
It can be especially hurtful to individuals with a mental illness to be called “crazy”. People living with a mental illness go through unseen struggles every day. Adding shame to the mix can make it worse. They may internalize it and feel worse about themselves. Or, they may feel unsupported.
Words to Use Instead of “Crazy”
Try out these words in place of “crazy”:
- Out there
- Just wow
- A whole thing
- All over the place
Could We Still Use “Crazy”?
It’s clear that the mental health community is unsure if or how to use the word. Some people argue that because of the stigma attached to it, the word shouldn’t be used at all. Others suggest we can use it if we do so very intentionally, and never to insult a person with a mental illness.
If we do continue to use it in our community, let’s use it wisely. It’s not okay to call someone “crazy”, or to judge someone’s actions as “crazy”. That can further stigmatize mental illness.
Some suggest that the word can still be used to describe positive things or inanimate objects. That might look like; “these nachos are crazy good,” “This weather is crazy,” or “I got a crazy deal on my lawnmower.”
But the most important thing is to listen to individuals with a mental illness. If they tell you they are uncomfortable with a word, don’t use it.
One in five people in the U.S. lives with a mental illness. It’s a common condition and one that affects all of us in some way or another. Phasing out the word “crazy” from our vocabulary may be a step towards getting rid of the stigma of mental illness.
Here at Guild, we know how important it is to create a supportive community. We’re committed to meeting unmet needs, empowering communities, and helping people achieve their goals.
In need of mental health services? Call our Community Access team at (651) 925-8490.
Craze, Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Crasen, University of Michigan Library.
Crazy, Online Etymology Dictionary.
Mental Illness Stigma, Help Seeking, and Public Health Programs, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Mental Health By the Numbers, National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Read more thoughts on the word “crazy”:
‘That’s Crazy’: Why You Might Want to Rethink That Word in Your Vocabulary, Penn Medicine News.