Marbles -- Gone

Matthew Alice:

How about "lose one's marbles"? Where is that from?

-- Ken, M.A. comments board

Ken was browsing through some archived info from our stable of word nerds when he came up with this. When we slid this question under their door, we could hear them scrambling out the back window, which is never a good sign. Only one stuck around to offer Ken an explanation -- our old friend Michael Quinion, who is an advisor to the OED when he's not hanging out with the elves. He says the expression is strictly American and first appears in print late in the 1890s, but of course it had been around in the spoken language a long time before that. It originally meant "angry," like a kid who hit a cold streak in the game of marbles and lost 'em all. (Around that time, marbles was a very popular game, and marbles were very special toys.) If you're angry enough, I suppose you probably seem a little crazy. And eventually the meaning of the phrase shifted from "mad" (angry) to "mad" (nuts). Seems pretty straightforward to me. Don't know why all the other word jockeys bailed.

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Hello Matthew Alice

Do you know of any stores in San Diego that still sell marbles?


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