Beth Wolford brought up an interesting word in the e-mail this morning, a word that is remindful of an even more intriguing word. Her question was very straightforward: “Where did the word cock-eyed come from?”
Well, its origin is rather straightforward, too. Cock-eyed (or cockeyed as dictionaries prefer it today) is a relatively new word, first appearing in print in the late 19th century. A cock-eye (or cocked eye) was originally an eye with something wrong with it, an eye that is turned inward or outward, that is out of alignment, off-center in the sense a cocked hat is a hat off-center or out of alignment. (Some people distinguish cross-eyed, when one or both eyes are turned inward, from cock-eyed, when one or both eyes point outward.)
The verb cock means to move something from its usual alignment or kilter, to set it askew, askant or awry. Its combination with eye in cock-eyed makes eminent sense. If something is out of kilter, it is a little crazy, so the drift of the meaning from a little crazy to completely crazy makes sense, too. (The process is called ‘semantic expansion’.)
Now, a cock-eyed story can also be a cockamamie story since the both words have firmly assumed the sense of “crazy”. Hmmmm. cockeyed : cockamamie. They must be related, right?
Wrong. In fact, cock-eyed is totally unrelated to cockamamie. As I explained when I wrote up cockamamie as a daily Good Word back on February 24, cockamamie is a corruption of decalcomania “a mania for decals”, a mania—believe it or not—that raged in Victorian England.