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Losing One’s Marbles: Part 3

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If you’ve got a good head, you’re smart. That works in both English and Japanese:

頭がいい (atama ga ii: smart)     head + good

And if you have a bad head? Well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense in English (possibly suggesting a headache), but in Japanese the logic continues:

頭が悪い (atama ga warui: dumb, slow)     head + bad

OK, then, what if your head is strange or funny? For English speakers, that might conjure up images of Jay Leno (long-chinned), Abe Lincoln (long everything), or Barry Bonds post-“steroids” (plumped-up head). But in Japanese, here’s what a funny head gets you:

頭がおかしい (atama ga okashii: insane)     head + funny

When it comes to heads, “funny” and “strange” are about the same:

頭が変 (atama ga hen: crazy, disturbed, mad)     head + strange

More Atama Expressions …

To speak of developing one of those strange heads, you say this:

頭が変になる (atama ga hen ni naru: to go crazy, go off one’s head)     head + strange

To go off one’s head? That peculiar English expression could certainly leave a nonnative speaker scratching his or her . The wording suggests a head that shoots off in an explosion.

But in fact, we’re talking about craziness, as we have been for the last few weeks. (Sorry, I hope the unrelenting focus isn’t driving you crazy!) In recent blogs, we talked about the kind of craziness where people brim with enthusiasm or do wild things in a joie-de-vivre way that may show poor judgment. Today, we’ll look at the type of craziness for which someone might lock you up and give you mind-altering pills.

Here’s another term for “insanity,” one that also incorporates the idea of “strangeness.”

気が変 (ki ga hen: insane, mad, crazy)     spirit + strange


In this case, the spirit is strange, not the mind, although can also mean “mind” or “consciousness.”

Sample Sentence with 気が変

And here’s another way for the spirit to develop problems:

気が狂う (ki ga kuruu: to go crazy)     spirit + to go crazy

We’ve seen repeatedly over the past few weeks, and last week we encountered 狂う (kuruu: to go crazy), the same verb that shows up in 気が狂う. I must note with some embarrassment that last week I defined this verb as “to do crazily.” But “to go crazy” is much better, and I can’t even figure out which source told me otherwise. Maybe I was out of my mind when I wrote that!

Another Meaning of 狂う

Sample Sentences with 気が狂う

Would you believe the Japanese have still more ways of referring to insanity? Take this, for instance:

いかれる (ikareru: to be crazy)

Sample Sentence with いかれる

It feels to me as if we’ve seen an abundance of terms, but perhaps that makes sense. Insanity is mystifying, fascinating, and frustrating—maddening, one might say! Given that potent combination, people in many cultures feel compelled to talk about insanity. But to do so can be taboo, and the whole topic can feel rather embarrassing, particularly because most of us fear our capacity to be irrational. Naturally, euphemisms and roundabout references emerge, such as “going nuts,” “going bonkers,” or “losing one’s marbles.” Speaking of “roundabout,” here’s my favorite word for “going crazy”:

狂い回る (kuruimawaru: to rave; run amok)
to go crazy + to turn around

This gives me the image of a chicken with its head cut off, a chicken running around in circles—or in squares, as 回る suggests.

Time for your Verbal Logic Quizzes!

Verbal Logic Quizzes …