Podcast harebrained

Printable Version
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: Duuuuh!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.)

Dr. Goodword,

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