The Grammarphobia Blog

Nutso, cracko, & co.

Q: My mother, born and raised in Worcester, MA, often uses the expression “nutso cracko,” which drives me nutso cracko. Can you tell me how this phrase came to be? I hope my query doesn’t drive you over the edge.

A: My guess is that your mom is being inventive with compound modifiers.

The adjective “nutso” (crazy or nuts) has been around since the late 1970s, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Another source, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, lists “cracko” (eccentric or insane) as being in use since the 1980s.

Seems to me that “nutso cracko” is a pretty nifty combination, but your mother isn’t the only person to use it.

I got three hits on Google for “nutso cracko” as well as two for “nutso-cracko,” one for “nutso, cracko,” another for “nutso/cracko,” and one more for this extended mouthful: “nutso, cracko-whacko, weirdo, strange, hippie, pothead.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Now, there’s a saying that’s been around a bit longer. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for this pipe-smoking expression is from Americans Abroad (1824), a two-act comedy by R. B. Peake. The next cite, a dozen years later, is from The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens’s first novel.

But how did pipe-smoking get into an expression about dealing with something whether you like it or not? The saying is apparently derived from a belief that pipe-smoking and meditation go together, according to Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, edited by Paul Beale.

Today, given what we know about carcinogens, someone who smoked while meditating would be considered ill-advised – and, perhaps, nutso cracko.

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