Warning: This post may offend some readers. Words, however, are just words and that’s what DWT is all about. Curious minds want to know!
DWT reader Jess received an email in which the sender said “I got a wild hair about me.” Jess says that the expression was used in the sense of acting impetuously.
However, the expression for which “wild hair” is a shortening is “to have a wild hair up one’s ass.” The meaning of this vulgar expression is “to have an obsession or fixation about something.”
Garrison Keillor conveys this sense in his August 2, 2008 News from Lake Woebegone segment. In this instance it’s not a hair but a quarter, and it’s not up anything, it’s between the butt cheeks. He’s talking about a woman who is very angry about something and is going to confront her brother about it:
…she stalked across that farmyard like somebody who’s carrying a quarter in their butt. If you go around carrying a quarter in your butt, you won’t think of anything else.
Disagreement exists as to why a hair should cause such single-minded discomfort, but I suppose there could be such a thing as a painful ingrown hair. The word “wild” in this context refers to the fact that the hair in question is not going where it is wanted.
The meaning implied in the email, “to act impetuously or in an uncharacteristic manner,” doesn’t seem as apt.
Some other “hairy” idioms:
to split hairs – “to dissect a subject down to the most trivial and unimportant details.” I want to give the go ahead and all you want to do is split hairs about what color the tags should be.
hair-brained – “foolish, ditzy.” The expression originates from the erratic behavior of hares and is more properly spelled harebrained. However, the spelling hair-brained is quite common. I never heard of a more harebrained idea in my life!
hair of the dog – short for “hair of the dog that bit you.” In modern usage it refers to the notion that a person with a hangover can cure himself by drinking in the morning what he was drinking the night before. The expression originates in an ancient homeopathic cure for the bite of a mad dog. Pliny the Elder gives several remedies, one of which is to rub into the wound ash, prepared by burning, “from the hair under the tail of the mad dog itself.”
by a hair’s breadth – “by a narrow margin.” He escaped death by a hair’s breadth. Possible origin: a formal unit of measurement called a hairbreadth, equal to one-forty-eighth of an inch.
hair-trigger – “a trigger that requires very little effort to release.” The term can be used figuratively: Her husband has a hair-trigger temper.
to let one’s hair down – “to relax and be at one’s ease with people.” Come on, Charlie! Let your hair down and dance! The term originated in the 1850s and probably first applied to women who wore their hair up in public.
hair-raising – “frightening and exciting.” Follow Indiana Jones in another hair-raising adventure.
a hairy situation – “something fraught with difficulty.” The conversation became a bit hairy once he mentioned Alison.
hairpin curve – “a curve in the road that goes back on itself.” Younger readers may not know what an old-fashioned hairpin looked like. The curve at the joined end was much wider than the curve of a mere bobby pin.