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Author Topic: Where or how did the phrase  (Read 11120 times)

Offline Hiheels

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Where or how did the phrase
« on: 13 October, 2009, 12:08:44 PM »
"off your rocker" originate?  ???

Offline spryte

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Re: Where or how did the phrase
« Reply #1 on: 13 October, 2009, 02:07:35 PM »
i had a little look-see, and this is by far the best explanation i've found, an excellent answer:

OFF ONE’S ROCKER (1897) means crazy, demented, out of one’s mind, in a confused or befuddled state of mind, senile. It is synonymous with OFF ONE’S TROLLEY (1896) or NUT (1860), CHUMP (1864), CONK (by 1870), ONION (1890), ROCKET (1910s - 1950s), BASE (late 19th century), BEAN (20th century), HEAD (mid-19th century), KAZIP (1900-1930s), KADOOVA (late 19th century), NANA (1940s), NOB (1950s), PANNICAN/PANNIKIN (1895 - 1930s, Australia), SAUCER (20th century), TOP (mid-19th century), TOP TRAVERSE (20th century, Australia). <“When the old codger realized that he had lost all of his money, he went off his rocker.”>

There are two schools of thought on the origin of this phrase and one of them is that the expression has nothing to do with either falling out of a rocking chair or somehow being off the curved piece of wood upon which the rocking takes place. In the opinion of eminent lexicographer Laurence Urdang and in my humble opinion, based on the evidence I have seen, the other possibility seems more likely. Urdang stated his case in a discussion of OFF ONE’S TROLLEY, which, as it turns out, is intimately related to OFF ONE’S ROCKER as follows:

Picturesque Expressions by Urdang

OFF ONE’S TROLLEY: This expression alludes to the once-common spectacle of a motormen’s attempts to realign the contact wheel of a trolley car with the overhead wire. Since this contact wheel is also called a ‘trolley,’ 'off one’s trolley' may refer either to the conductor’s actions or to the fact that when the wires are “off the trolley,” the vehicle no longer receives an electric current and is, therefore, rendered inoperative.

A similar expression is SLIP ONE’S TROLLEY ‘to become demented.’ In the more widely used variation OFF ONE’S ROCKER, ‘rocker’ is most often said to refer to the curved piece of wood on which a cradle or chair rocks. But since both ‘off one’s trolley’ and ‘off one’s rocker’ became popular about the same time streetcars were installed in major American cities, and since ROCKER, like TROLLEY, also means the wheel or runner that makes contact with an overhead electricity supply, it is more likely that the ROCKER of the expression carries this later meaning.

<1897 “When asked if he swallowed the liniment, he said, ‘Yes, I was OFF MY ROCKER”—Daily News, 29 June, page 3/5>

Some additional quotes include:
<1923 “The Duke is OFF HIS ROCKER.”—‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ by Wodehouse, viii. page 78>

<1932 “It's going to be awkward for us if the Emperor goes OFF HIS ROCKER.”—‘Black Mischief’ by Evelyn Waugh, v. page 195>

<1943 “We're wondering if there was anybody who cared enough about Mrs. Wainright to go OFF HIS ROCKER and kill both of 'em when she fell for somebody else.”—‘She Died a Lady’ by C. Dickson, vii. page 58>

<1976 “‘To put the record straight, what I said was that some of them were . . .’ ‘Off their rockers?’ suggested the reporter.”—‘Wilt’ by T. Sharpe, xiv. page 144>

What Urdang does not specifically say, is that the first appearance in print of OFF ONE’S TROLLEY in 1896 (see quote below) was followed less than one year later in 1897 (see quote above) by OFF ONE’S ROCKER. This, and the fact that electric trolleys were ‘off’ and running in the 1890s would seem to indicate that we might have more than just a coincidence here. And it strikes me that falling ‘asleep’ in one’s rocking chair is a much more likely event than ‘falling off one’s rocking chair’ – an occurrence seemingly too rare to warrant having an expression named after it – or the even rarer occurrence of somehow being ‘off the rocker’ on one’s rocking chair (whatever that might mean – it’s hard to visualize). On the other hand, even by the 1940s when I would pass three different trolley lines on my mile or so walk to my elementary school every day (yes, kids actually walked to school in those prehistoric times), I often saw men working on a stalled trolley trying to get that overhead, spring-loaded pole, back onto the power line where it belonged – it had gone OFF ITS ROCKER.
<1896 “Any one that's got his head full o' the girl proposition's liable to go OFF HIS TROLLEY at the first curve.”—‘Artie’ by George Ade, x. page 92>

<1903 “She's OFF HER TROLLEY. She toins [[Brooklynese for ‘turns’]] sick; an' in a week she croaks.”—‘The Boss, and How He Came to Rule New York’ by A.H. Lewis, xix. page 264>

<1949 “If you suspect Patty, you're OFF YOUR TROLLEY!”–‘Young & Fair’ by N. R. Nash, II. ii. page 66>

<1983 “The London college gym mistress who is suing her former lover for libel in the High Court, heard a lawyer say yesterday that she had ‘gone OFF HER TROLLEY’ about the affair.”—‘Times,’ 5 February, page 3/1>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins)

by: ken greenwald, from: http://www.wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=18057
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Offline AtMyWitzEnd

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Re: Where or how did the phrase
« Reply #2 on: 13 October, 2009, 10:12:26 PM »
I think (and its my opinion, I can't find anything to back this up) that its a military or nautical term. The rocker on a gun is the part when the breech is joined to the carriage. If a gun was "off its rocker" it would shoot unpredictably and in an uncontrolled way. So, if a person was said to be "off their rocker", they were acting in a mad way.


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Re: Where or how did the phrase
« Reply #3 on: 22 June, 2016, 05:40:01 PM »
A rocker arm is a common mechanical device (e.g., a rocker arm links a cam to a valve stem to control intact and exhaust valves in an internal combustion engine).  The metaphor alludes to the state of disarray of a device whose rocker arms are unhinged from their mounts.  See unhinged.

Offline P-Kasso2

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Re: Where or how did the phrase
« Reply #4 on: 29 October, 2016, 06:59:16 PM »

I well remember trolley buses coming off their wires...so I have to back both these answers even though, like most people, I'd always thought it referred to grannie falling off her rocking chair - a common occurrence in our house especially after a slice or two of tipsy cake. Off her trolley she also was too.
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