A “crackpot” is a person with illogical, senseless, or wild ideas; an eccentric, a crank.

Some people might assume the word is related to drugs because crack and pot are both slang words for different drugs. However, it is actually is quite old and comes from another source entirely.

It developed from the combination of cracked and pot, and their original slang meanings. Something that is cracked is broken. In the 1600s, one of the slang meanings of cracked was a person with an impaired mind. This is because cracked was short for brain-cracked. And in John Canne’s A Necessity of Separation from the Church of England, 1634, we find:

“If Mr. Bradshaw had found such a reason in Mr, Johnson’s writing, he would surely have called him idle head, cracked-brained, fool etc.”

The slang for pot goes back even further, all the way to the 1400s. Back then, it could mean head. Therefore, crackpot was another way to say impaired head. It is mentioned in this way in a piece from Guy de Chauliac’s translation of Grande Chirurgie, circa 1425.

When it first came onto the literary scene, this term appeared as cracked pot, then cracked-pot. “Crack-pot” (with a hyphen at that stage) is used in a Broadside Ballad, recorded by John S. Farmer in 1883. Eventually it became crackpot. Many words in the language began as two- or three-word phrases and eventually merged into one word. 

There is a village called Crackpot, in Swaledale, Yorkshire. But the village existed long before “crackpot” came to mean crazy, as it dates from at least the 1100s, after the invasion of the Vikings. The Vikings called it Crakepot, which derives from the Norse terms “kraka,” a crake or crow and “pot,” a deep hole or pit — neither of which has anything to do with being crazy. Crackpot was merely “the hole where crows gather.”

I wonder what a potter would make of this word.

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