Use this forum to discuss past Good Words.
User avatar
Dr. Goodword
Site Admin
Posts: 4558
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:28 am
Location: Lewisburg, PA


Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:09 pm

• harebrained •

Pronunciation: heyr-braynd • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Having the brain of a rabbit, foolish, stupid (people). 2. Outlandishly foolish, stupid, non sequitur (anything else).

Notes: Since the 16th century English speakers have been misspelling this word hair-brained, so this phenomenon is not new. However, let's stamp it out in the 21st century and prove that we are not harebrains. Which reminds me, this adjective is derived from the personal noun, a harebrain, which means "a dumb bunny". (Boy, are we tough on rabbits!) The Oxford English Dictionary says that harebrainness is archaic, but harebrainedness doesn't strike me as such a harebrained idea. Does it you? Hyphenate it (hare-brained)? What's to hyphenate?

In Play: The problem, of course, is that Americans now call hares rabbits or bunnies. Harebrained, however, remains harebrained: "I think my harebrained mechanic must have topped off my radiator with soda and drunk a quart of antifreeze; the car still runs hot and I just found him curled up asleep in the trunk." Moreover, the meaning has expanded to include anything that someone with a hare's brain might do: "Rabbit for Easter dinner? What kind of harebrained idea is that?"

Word History: Did you ever wonder why one of the most popular rabbit dishes is called hasenpfeffer instead of hares 'n pfeffer? Well, that is the sort of question linguists stew over. In German "hare" is Hase (Pfeffer is "pepper"). The German and English words are related, but how do we explain the R-S flip? In fact, the sounds [s] and [r] occasionally replace each other in Indo-European languages, especially Latin. We are not sure why. but in this case it happened in English. (Today we thank the sparkling mind of Larry Brady, the Stargazer of the Agora, for a pretty Good Word to play with.)
Last edited by Dr. Goodword on Mon Mar 26, 2012 10:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
• The Good Dr. Goodword

User avatar
Junior Lexiterian
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 8:22 pm
Location: Seattle

Hare brained

Postby tedholzman » Sun Mar 25, 2012 2:37 am

So, for what it's worth, taxonomy dictators (the same folks who tell us that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable) would say hares and rabbits are different animals. I think the distinction was important to medieval hunters, too.

I wonder if harebrainedness isn't related to the March hare phenomenon -- unreceptive female hares (harlots?) fighting off over-eager males (harems?) at the beginning of mating season.

Junior Lexiterian
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Jun 06, 2011 3:42 am


Postby Monika » Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:08 am

It is indeed important to know the difference, Mr. Holzman, not only for some food nerds. You can also see it: hares have longer legs and smaller heads than rabbits. You would not keep a hare in a cage.
And: rabbits live in packs and burrows.
Hares are rogues and live on fields.

Children want answers to this kind of questions!!

Senior Lexiterian
Posts: 555
Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 10:21 am
Location: New York City area

Postby misterdoe » Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:24 am

And here I was assuming that anyone who used this word grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons! :)

Just like the coworker of mine who tends to put on airs a bit, until one day when evidence was found of one or more mice in the building. "A meese?" she said. "Did somebody say there's a meese running around in here?!" Meaning she grew up on (and had probably recently watched) those old Pixie & Dixie cartoons. They were mice always on the run from the cat Mr. Jinx, who "hates meeses to pieces." :lol:

User avatar
Junior Lexiterian
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 8:22 pm
Location: Seattle

Postby tedholzman » Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:33 am

Yes. I think the whole hare/rabbit confusion might be traced back to MerrieMelodies.

User avatar
Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 3978
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2009 6:16 pm
Location: Land of the Flat Water

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:21 pm

Well, I know there is a difference between rabbits and
hares, but the discussion has me confused. I'll stick
to bunnies.
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

Return to “Good Word Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 5 guests