Holy Shit, Batman!
March 21, 2006 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Where do apeshit and batshit come from?

I understand the biological processes okay, but I can't figure out where the expressions "go apeshit" and "batshit insane" come from. The first seems like it might have something to do with flinging poo, but the second makes no sense at all.

Does exposure to guano cause insanity? Is it just a really crazy situation when a bat shits on you?

Dictionary.com is no help, and I don't have access to the O.E.D. Wiktionary mentions the phrases, but it doesn't try to figure out their origins.
posted by landtuna to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Probably just a corruption of "batty", meaning insane.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 9:33 AM on March 21, 2006

Response by poster: That seems pretty likely, Big Fat Tycoon. Interestingly, batty is just an abbreviation of "bats in the belfry," the belfry being one's head, I guess.
posted by landtuna at 9:35 AM on March 21, 2006

I don't know if he originated it, but I know Hunter Thompson used "batshit insane;" he was fond of bats, shit, insanity, and neologisms, so I wouldn't be terribly shocked if he was the one who coined the phrase.
posted by COBRA! at 9:35 AM on March 21, 2006

Best answer: I recall reading a cartoon as a kid where a character started to act strangely after entering a cave with bats.
A quick google:
Aerosol transmission of rabies is known to occur in bat caves in the United States but has not been reported in Ontario.
posted by jouke at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2006

Response by poster: More on the "bats in the belfry" angle.
posted by landtuna at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2006

I think that in both cases "shit" is being used as an intensifier, and as such doesn't carry its literal meaning (see, for example, "shit-ton", as in "I saw a shit-ton of accidents on the way to work today").
posted by Prospero at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

On the Batshit insane, bat guano collecting in caves invites parasites. Some of the parasites can cause health problems in humans. Or least strange behavior (like a flea infestation) in some humans. I think there used to be rumor about breathing in parasites from bat and/or bird droppings and the parasites then eating in to your brain causing erratic behaviour. My memory is dim on this one.
posted by JigSawMan at 9:43 AM on March 21, 2006

Does exposure to guano cause insanity?

No - histoplasmosis, maybe. (Incidentally, birdshot is also guano.)

Bats themselves are often carriers of rabies, which might contribute to the "insane" part.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:43 AM on March 21, 2006

Ah, some more googling (bat guano diseases) also brought to light that rabies may be contracted, surely that would make you look insane.
posted by JigSawMan at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2006

Best answer: I think it's linguistically simpler than that: people used to go bananas. Slang evolves- bananas are ape shit, ha ha, he's apeshit!

Once you have one animal's shit being synonymous with insanity, you can substitute pretty much anything. I could say "John went frogshit wild at the bar last Saturday," and be understood.

Batshit works especially well because we already had "bats in the belfrey" so it's a callback to the newly-coined phrase, with a solid foundation in a previous one to enhance comprehension.

(See also: Flappers starting out being the cat's meow, and by 1929, you could also be the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas, the flea's eyebrows, the canary's tusks, the snake's hips, the clam's garters, etc., etc., etc..)
posted by headspace at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I don't find either of them in my copy of the OED (not as main entries, nor under 'insane' nor 'shit' nor 'bat' nor 'ape.'

But I don't have the electronic, searchable version with all the new entries.
posted by teece at 9:53 AM on March 21, 2006

headspace, with regard to your second example I understood that it started off as the "bees knees", which was making fun of the way Italian-Americans pronounced "The business". But I'm just repeating what I've read. Anyway the more important point (which you made!) is that however it started, all the other variations just followed the same pattern. I like your bananas=apeshit theory.
posted by teleskiving at 9:58 AM on March 21, 2006

I don't have the electronic, searchable version with all the new entries.

I do, but it's not in there.
posted by grouse at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2006

Are there uses of batshit (as in batshit crazy) that predate Col. Bat Guano in Dr. Strangelove?

Personally, I think the best intensifier for crazy is not batshit but bugfuck. Someone who is bugfuck crazy is more crazier nor what someone who is batshit crazy is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2006

Best answer: From the OED (the New Edition)

c. Used quasi-advb. in to go ape (slang, orig. U.S.), to go ‘crazy’; to become excited, violent, sexually aggressive, etc.; to display strong enthusiasm or appreciation; also, to malfunction.

1955 Amer. Speech XXX. 117 [Air Force slang] Go ape; go ape shit, v. phr., react in an irrational manner; go into a frenzy.

Military slang (rather unsurprisingly, considering all the other euphemisms that have come from military jargon/slang) wherefrom the OED attributes first-usage
posted by jivadravya at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2006

(Edit to above) Batshit is not listed, however.
posted by jivadravya at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2006

Etymonline has nothing on batshit, but the following on apeshit: "To go ape (in emphatic form, go apeshit) "go crazy" is 1955, U.S. slang."
posted by cerbous at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2006

I don't usually bother to correct my typos, but this time, I really screwed the pooch.

Birdshot is not guano. If it were, that guy Cheney shot would have some real problems.

Bird shit is guano.

I apologize for the confusion.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2006

Don't forget "apewire," a "haywire"/"apeshit" hybrid invented for television. X-Files IIRC.
posted by kindall at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2006

Man, "hayshit" would have been so much cooler.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2006

Actually now that I think about it it might have been from Homicide.
posted by kindall at 12:49 PM on March 21, 2006

You left out bullshit! That completes the unholy trinity.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2006

I presonally like the euphamisms "Bushshit insane" and "Cheneyshit insane" myself.
posted by camworld at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2006

umm, from apes and bats?
posted by angrybeaver at 1:44 PM on March 21, 2006

Aren't there pathogens in Bat shit that make you sick and perhaps act crazy/feverish? Seem like I have read about that with lots of animal scat?
posted by tkchrist at 1:51 PM on March 21, 2006

"Aren't there pathogens in Bat shit that make you sick and perhaps act crazy/feverish?"

There was a show on HGTV recently about a lady that bought a house without having it adequately inspected. When she was driving home one day she T-boned an oncoming car because she didn't see it.

Turned out that there were a ton of bats in her attic (literally, in this case) and, apparently, prolonged exposure to bat guano can cause abrasions in one's eye.

Though it's surely not the origin of batshit insane, I know I'd be pretty upset if I went blind because of bat poop.
posted by owenkun at 6:27 AM on November 22, 2006

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