What does Barmy mean?

The term Barmy is an English colloquialism which has been in use since the late 1800s.

Derived from “barm”, which means “frothing” or “ferment”, it has two distinct meanings. In the UK, as well as Australia and New Zealand it is used to describe someone who is behaving strangely or in a very silly manner. It can also be used to describe something that is full of froth or ferment, although that is an archaic use of the term.


What's the origin of Barmy?

The term “Barmy” has a long and interesting etymology. It dates back to the 1530s, when it was used to describe a frothy or fermented beverage.

By the 17th century, the term took on a figurative meaning, being used to describe someone who was “excited, flighty, or bubbling with excitement.”

By the late 19th century, the term had taken on its current meaning of “foolish”, most likely as an alteration of the word “Balmy”, which has been used in this sense since the late 1700s.

Today, “Barmy” is mainly used in the UK, especially in London, to describe someone who is behaving strangely, or is very silly.

Spread & Usage

How did Barmy spread?

The term “Barmy” has been around since the 19th century, when it first began to appear in London slang.

Over the course of the 20th century, it spread across the British Isles, as well as the rest of the Commonwealth countries, appearing in radio broadcasts, publications, books, movies and series.

Even today, it is still popular in England, as well as Australia and New Zealand, though it is rarely used in the United States. It is a whimsical word, often used to describe someone who is a bit goofy in their behavior.

External resources

  • Etymonline – Barmy
  • Merriam-Webster – Barmy
  • Cambridge Dictionary – Barmy

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