History of the World: Mad Hatters

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There are a lot of phrases we just use without really knowing where they came from. I'm sure we're all familiar with Alice in Wonderland and her tea party pals the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. We also all know that they were depicted as being, errrr, a little loopy. But why are those particular names/phrases associated with being crazy? Well, History of the World to the rescue!

ALICE

During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers started using chemicals in the apparel-making process to speed things up a bit. For instance, mercury helped separate animal fur from its skin, so hat-makers spent a lot of quality time with the incredibly toxic substance. Not only did they probably have direct skin contact with the mercury, the process of rinsing fabric in hot water had the hatters inhaling the mercury as well (mercury + really hot water = mercury steam). Because of this, lots of hat makers suffered from physical ailments and some lost their minds completely. Thus, "mad hatter" or "mad as a hatter".

The term March Hare isn't explained in the book, so consider this a bonus from me. Supposedly, the hare's March breeding season also brings weird behavior: boxing at rival hares, jumping vertically for absolutely no reason and generally just exhibiting weirdness (I feel like there's a joke in there somewhere about humans and breeding behavior, but I'll let it go). Chaucer first used the phrase "mad as a March Hare" in Friar's Tale in the 14th century.

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October 17, 2008 - 5:12am
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