Mad As A March Hare
Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 12, 2011
If someone mentions that you’re as mad as a March hare, what they mean is that you’re out of your mind and you’re not thinking straight. In other words, your behaviour is bizarre and completely unlike your usual demeanour.
The expression goes back to the belief that when breeding season hits in Europe — which just happens to begin during the month of March — hares behave erratically. The behaviour continues well past March, however during the winter months, hares are docile and so when they seem to be agitated and excited — and sometimes violent — it only appears to be out of character for these animals. It’s not … not really.
On March 7, 2010 the Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported on the FA Cup quarter final match between Reading and Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium. The first paragraph read:
Martin O’Neill went as mad as a March hare at the Madejski Stadium but finally laid to rest one of football’s rarer hoodoos at the 13th attempt. Since arriving at Aston Villa in 2006, the manager had failed to win a game in March and, after Shane Long gave Reading a two-goal half-time advantage, O’Neill delivered a broadside.
On March 1, 1925 the New York Times ran a news story on William Wrigley who began his career as a soap salesman and was known to spend millions on advertising. The reason for the story had everything to do with the chewing gum that sold for a penny but that generated net profits of over 8 million USD in 1924. The article began with this enticing tidbit of information:
To business men and bankers, Wrigley may have seemed mad as a March hare. That was the panic year. Money was at a premium. Businesses were wondering how they could escape their advertising contracts.
In Chapter VII also known as “Pigs and Pepper” of Lewis Carroll‘s book “Alice In Wonderland” published in 1865, the following exchange happens between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.
“By-the-bye, what became of the baby?” said the Cat. “I’d nearly forgotten to ask.”
“It turned into a pig,” Alice quietly said, just as if it had come back in a natural way.
“I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.
Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. “I’ve seen hatters before,” she said to herself; “the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad–at least not so mad as it was in March.” As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree.
W. C. Hazlitt published his book “Remains: Early Popular Poetry of England” in 1864. It contained a poem from 1500 that included this line:
Thanne they begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare.
The expression mad as a March Hare, however, is found in countless books and documents from the 16th century. In fact, John Heywood included the phrase in his book “A dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546. So in less than two generations, the phrase had come into its own. Part of this is due to the fact that in 1529, Sir Thomas More used the phrase in his book “The Supplycacyon of Soulys” when he wrote about beggars and their begging ways:
As mad not as a march hare, but as a madde dogge.
Idiomation was unable to find an earlier version of the expression mad as a March hare however it’s very likely that it was used in previous decades as it is used with great ease of language in the 1500s.