Gnome Poop Insane

Conversing with a friend recently, I mused, what could be the background to the expression “batshit insane”? My friend suggested that it might have something to do with having bats in the belfry. I then wondered what the Swedish equivalent of this expression would be.

In Swedish, you don’t have bats in the belfry. You have gnomes on the loft. Thus, “batshit insane” translates to tomtespillningstokig: gnome poop insane.


  1. #1 Mattias
    December 2, 2008

    Don’t you suppose that gnomes, as opposed to bats, may use water closets? That would explain the taste in one’s mouth in morning.

    / Mattias

  2. #2 megan
    December 2, 2008

    While I LOVE learning new ways to say things in Swedish, I would think maybe batshit insane comes from the massive piles of batshit that are reported in some places and then used for fertilizer.

    Though what about people going ape-shit? Where would that come from?

  3. #3 Mattias
    December 2, 2008

    Megan, is ape-shit a consequence of someone first going bananas – throw in the fertlizer and you’ve got yourself a sustainable system of madness.

    / Mattias

  4. #4 Martin R
    December 2, 2008

    This suggests that the exotic fruit guanabana was once called (bat) guano banana and would drive apes gnome-poop insane.

  5. #5 Pär
    December 2, 2008

    Quite fond of “bindgalen” (strap-down frantic) and “skogstokig” (forest-furious” myself, even if they refer more to being agitated than deranged.

  6. #6 Martin R
    December 2, 2008

    Oh yes, bindgalen is a beautifully instrumental classification. There are sane men, and madmen, and a subset of the latter are functionally speaking strapdowners.

    There used to be a mental hospital outside Kalmar whose director was an ex military man. He divided his operation into three sections for patients with different needs.

    * Vansinniga, non-violent psychotics.
    * Slösinniga, retardees and catatonics.
    * Ursinniga, violent psychotics, strapdowners.

  7. #7 Mattias
    December 2, 2008

    In Swedish national registration of the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries (as all genealogists will recall) one of the most common remarks for all kinds of disabilities and mental unhealth is the crassly insensitive “ofärdig”, often entered into the margins next to the person instead of a graded number in the column stating how well they can read and memorise the cathechismus. It has a different meaning than “unfertig” and “unverdich” in German, which tend to map on to meanings of ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘not yet of age’. “Ofärdig” indicates the use which the state can make of a person (“duglighet”) and is still used with brutally honest effect by my older relatives in rural Östergötland, since they regard it as a polite way to indicate the possibility of gnomes inhabiting someone’s loft.

  8. #8 Martin R
    December 2, 2008

    I wonder if ofärdig covered both people who had never been fully competent and people who had descended into incompetence through e.g. psychosis or senile dementia.

  9. #9 blf
    December 2, 2008

    What is the Gnomes’ word for batshite insane? Swedes stuck in toilets? 😉

  10. #10 Thinker
    December 2, 2008

    … with brutally honest effect [snip] as a polite way to indicate the possibility of gnomes inhabiting someone’s loft.

    As the old example of “ofärdig” indicates, we humans seem to enjoy saying how stupid others are that we constantly invent new ways to say it, and somehow think that an innovative phrase is less insensitive than stating our opinion clearly. And the creativity continues; you may have noticed a proliferation of expressions such as:

    “He doesn’t have all his horses in the barn.”

    “His elevator doesn’t go all the way up.”

    “The wheel’s spinning, but the hamster is dead”

    “In over his depth – in a puddle”

    I’m sure you know many more. My question is: do we actually think we can be both “brutally honest” and “polite” at the same time?

  11. #11 Stefan K.
    December 2, 2008

    “Doesn’t play with a full deck”…
    Nice one; “tomtespillningstokig” – will put it into immediate use! 😉

  12. #12 DianaGainer
    December 2, 2008

    I love it, y’all! This is the sort of stuff they never teach us in class, especially the excessively polite Norwegian night class I attended over 3 decades ago! Besides the above phrases, I’ve also heard “He’s snapped his twig,” “He’s not running on all cylinders,” the one use for myself more and more, “that was just a Senior Moment,” (well, it’s better than Alzheimer’s or the standard “Second Childhood”), “inch short of a full deck,” the one from the old song, “they (the men in white coast) are coming to take him/her away,” plus “bonkers,” which sounds sillier than “loony” and so is theoretically nicer but not really. There’s also the very rude, “Hello? Anybody to home?” (the use of “to” being dialect here in Texas and other folks put in other prepositions) and if you’re really, really rude, you knock on the person’s head.

    And just as a matter of opinion, who has more of a lilt, do you think, a Norwegian or a Swede?

  13. #13 megan
    December 2, 2008

    sustainable madness, huzzah! I’ll be using ‘skogstokig’ in my conversations tonight.

  14. #14 RickrOll
    December 3, 2008

    “I’m sure you know many more. My question is: do we actually think we can be both “brutally honest” and “polite” at the same time?”–Sure, just add alot of syllables. Like this: Your vacuous inanity most assuredly is a psycho-social incarnation of a Perpetual motion engine. Astonishing!
    See, you can be direct, and what’s more, by the time the person in question has desciphered your insult, the motion has been tabled and the discussion has resumed its course.

  15. #15 Mattias
    December 3, 2008

    Concerning the aim of being honest and polite at the same time, I assume it is possible in this case but normally all attempts to be politically correct – I remember seeing both “cerebrally challenged” and “alternatively talented” – increases the effect of brutality, since it implies that there is something involved which cannot be explicitly adressed within normal conduct. It is just like saying “s/he is a bit… well you know… a bit … different … or special”.

    Speaking of ‘gnomes on the loft’, I have heard among swedish youth also an inversion of that phrase, i.e. someone ‘not having all the gnomes on the loft’, probably in analogy with the many versions of lacking something or being “ofärdig”: ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’, ‘a few fries short of a happy meal’ &c.

    / Mattias

  16. #16 Tor
    December 3, 2008

    Another interesting way of confusing your audience might be to declare that someone “doesn’t have all his bats in the belfry.”

  17. #17 Mattias
    December 3, 2008

    Tor, would that mean that the person in question is not as entirely insane as one would think? It reminds me of a wonderful review by Peterson-Berger, stating after the recital of a visiting singer that “since he last visited the country one cannot say that his abilities have progressed. But yet, it would be completely unfair to say that they have not changed at all.” This is brutality at its most charming, I think.

    / Mattias

  18. #18 Martin R
    December 3, 2008

    Diana, I quite like the Swedish expression han har inte alla besticken i lådan, “he hasn’t got all his cutlery in the drawer”.

    As for lilt, Swedes find the melody of Norwegian really amusing. In fact, even the most dire and serious statement in Norwegian sounds goofy to us. A friend of mine likes to quote a TV interview with a Norwegian 90s death metal musician who said Jeg elsker döden, “I love death” and stared moodily at the camera. Incredibly funny.

    Another interesting way of confusing your audience might be to declare that someone “doesn’t have all his bats in the belfry.”

    It’s because they’ve all flown over to visit the gnomes on the loft.

    “since he last visited the country one cannot say that his abilities have progressed. But yet, it would be completely unfair to say that they have not changed at all.”


  19. #19 Thinker
    December 3, 2008

    Of course, being insulting while sounding polite doesn’t necessarily have to do with the (lack of) intelligence in an individual.

    My favorite is the story about Mahatma Gandhi, who was asked by a journalist: “Mr Gandhi, with your profound knowledge of the East, what do you think of Western civilization?”. Gandhi responded: “I think that would be a very good idea”.

  20. #20 Pär
    December 3, 2008

    Mildly related, I just want to share a beautifully phrased dictum from a James Crumley novel I’m currently reading:

    Somebody once told me that when you meet a man who uses an initial in front of his name, you should at the very least lock up the hen house. And not because you’re worried about him stealing the eggs.

  21. #21 Susannah
    December 3, 2008

    I, too, was wondering about the origin of “batshit insane”, and linked it to “bats in the belfry.” I went one step further; belfries suggest churches (Christian), which usually housed bats.

  22. #22 Kaleberg
    December 3, 2008

    It has to do with bats in the belfry. That’s where the bat comes from, but the shit is just an intensifier in English. We’ll say things like he’s shit stupid or that’s shit fast, so batshit insane doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with bat fecal matter.

  23. #23 RickrOll
    December 3, 2008

    there Were many prominant athiests of antiquity, so the idea of “Bats in the Belfry” as a derogatory term seems plausible. It might also be congured by the idea that someone who would remark, “His church isn’t the Only thing with bats in the belfy” by someone who goes to that church.

  24. #24 Mattias
    December 4, 2008

    Do you think that the bats in the fables of Aesepos, for many centuries the primary text par excellence in European education, also may be relevant to the phrase? In the fables where bats appear these are cunning and deceitful, but flushed and exposed in the end.

    / Mattias

  25. #25 Riman butterbur
    December 5, 2008

    Aren’t bat droppings infested with rabies?

  26. #26 charlie
    December 5, 2008

    Don’t sweat it,Guano Happens.

  27. #27 DuWayne
    December 6, 2008

    I am so excited to have new methods by which to describe insane notions. And in Swedish no less – because nothing says fun like blank looks from people I have just insulted…..

  28. #28 woodstein312
    December 7, 2008

    If it hasn’t already been answered here — I don’t see that it has at least — the term “batshit crazy” is linked to the chemical fumes that accumulate from guano in caves where bats dwell. These fumes are toxic to humans — particularly those who “mined” guano for fertilizer in the American west during the 1800s — and can cause brain damage. Hence the term.
    You may have seen the photographs in an issue of National Geographic a while back of deep cave explorers in the southwest sporting gas masks, 02 tanks and protective hoods to prevent poisoning while in bats’ habitat.
    If you didn’t know, now you know.

  29. #29 woodstein312
    December 7, 2008

    The term “crazier than a shit-house rat” has similar origins. Thus ends the extent of shit-related knowledge.

  30. #30 Martin R
    December 8, 2008

    Shit, man!

  31. #31 2dogs
    July 21, 2010

    I shall take this to my job for the government tomorrow. Everyone there is totally batshit crazy and will appreciate this column devoted solely to them.

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