haywire

This has several meanings:

 — wire used to bind bales of hay

 — in disorder (the city is haywire because of the bus strike)

 — out of control, gone wrong, crazy

 — poorly equipped, makeshift

“To go haywire” probably originally referred to the tendency of wire spooled under tension to spring into an unmanageable tangle once a piece had been removed from the factory spool. Anyone who has handled coils of wire will be familiar with its determination to twist itself into an irretrievable tangle. 

At the turn of the 20th century the expression “a haywire outfit” began to be used in the USA. It described companies that did slap-dash fixes for faulty machinery using such wire, rather than going to the expense of making long-term repairs. In 1905, The US Forestry Bureau Bulletin described a “Hay wire outfit” as “a contemptuous term for loggers with poor logging equipment.”

It didn’t apply only to logging companies, of course. My father, who was a farmer for most of his life and a soldier-engineer for a few years, used it to describe farmers who didn’t take good care of their machinery and also soldiers who had the same fault. The phrase is familiar and I’ve heard it recently, with the same meaning.

The use of haywire to mean “awry” or “out of control” was first recorded around 1920. Random House Unabridged Dictionary offers this example: “He’s been haywire since he got the bad news.”

I suspect “haywire” is related to “duct tape.”

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