Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Bat Shit Crazy

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 25, 2016

Heather E. Johnson asked Idiomation where bat shit crazy came from, and what made bat excrement crazier than any other rodent’s.  The expression means that the person accused of being bat shit crazy is acting in a threatening manner that is devoid of all reason and that borders on insanity.  In other words, someone who is bat shit crazy so irrationally (and possibly violently as well) that reasonable, sane measures of dealing with the situation at hand are ineffective.

Scientifically speaking, the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum is found in bat guano and when the fungus infects the brain (a possibility, not a given), it leaves the infected person or animal behaving in a psychotic manner.

Until the early 1950s when Histoplasma capsulatum was finally being diagnosed correctly, sufferers were usually misdiagnosed with tuberculosis.  Placed on antibacterial antibiotics, the medication worsened the disease.  Why?  According to medical studies, once the bacteria in the body was killed off, the fungus had nothing to stop it from taking over completely.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  Histoplasmosis can even be fatal in some cases.   This article by S.T. Darling published in 1906 provides insight into this.  Darling, S. T. 1906. A protozoan general infection producing pseudotubercles in the lungs and focal necroses in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. JAMA 46:1283-1285.  This article by R.J. Parsons and C.J.D. Zarafonetis published in 1945 supports this as well.  Parsons, R. J., and C. J. D. Zarafonetis. 1945. Histoplasmosis in man, report of seven cases and a review of seventy-one cases. Arch. Intern. Med. 75:1-23.

Economically speaking, bat guano has been an international commodity as a fertilizer for about 200 years, and the best source is from Peru’s islands:  The Chincas, the Ballestras, the Lobos, and the Macabi and Guanape Islands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2:  There are other islands off Africa, in the Carribean, and some Pacific Islands that also have excellent and abundant stores of guano, however, guano from Peru is believed to be superior to all other guano.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3:  Guano is high in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium which are essential nutrients for plant growth.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 4:  Archeologists have discovered that guano has been used as an agricultural fertilizer by the Andean people over 1,500 years.  Documentation by Spanish explorers indicate that Incans restricted access to guano and considered guano a valuable commodity to be protected from overuse and misuse.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 5:  It’s believed that Peruvian seabird guano (since guano isn’t always from bats) used in 1842 in Ireland and Great Britain was responsible for the virulent strain of potato blight that was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine (1845 – 1852).

In 1909, Peru established the Guano Administration (we kid you not) to preserve their reserve of guano, and to continue to use guano for agricultural purposes in Peru.

Last month, the CBC reported on Emmanuel Kahsai, 30, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 54-year-old mother, Selma Alem, and second-degree murder in the death of a 25-year-old female.  Those who know the accused have stated to the media that they believe the accused is faking a psychiatric illness to escape criminal responsibility.  The article, published July 18, 2016 was titled, “Emmanuel Kahsai playing ‘bat-shit crazy card,’ says Selma Alem’s friend.

Batshit was used in the June 1983 movie, “Trading Places” starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.  The movie tells the story of a snobbish investor and a street savvy con artist who see their fortunes reversed as a result of a bet made by two millionaire brothers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke of the fictional commodities brokerage firm, Duke & Duke.

RANDOLPH DUKE
Exactly why do you think the price of pork bellies is going to keep going down, William?
    
BILLY RAY VALENTINE
Okay, pork belly prices have been dropping all morning, which means that everybody is waiting for it to hit rock bottom, so they can buy cheap and go long. Which means that the people who own the pork belly contracts are going batshit, they’re thinking, “Hey, we’re losing all our damn money, and Christmas is around the corner, and I ain’t gonna have no money to buy my son the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip! And my wife ain’t gonna f… my wife ain’t gonna make love to me if I got no money!” So they’re panicking right now, they’re screaming “SELL! SELL!” ‘cos they don’t wanna lose all their money, right? They’re panicking out there right now; I can feel it.
    
RANDOLPH DUKE
He’s right, Mortimer! My God, look at it!

It would seem that while the word crazy is implied, it wasn’t part of the idiom in 1983.

In 1971, William J. Calley Jr. published a book with the help of John Sack titled, “Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story.”  The book was marketed as “America’s most infamous soldier tells all.”  In his book, he used the expression batshit without tacking on the word crazy but as with the movie, “Trading Places” it’s implied.

Most of America’s males were in Korea or World War II or I. They killed, and they aren’t all going batshit.

This seems to show that bat shit, up to at least 1983, wasn’t coupled with the word crazy.

In 1988, the term appeared three times in the book, “Runaway” by author and English professor, Stephen Gresham — on pages, 85, 91, and 122.  The story is about 13-year-old Mark Blackwood who comes from a rich family but because he’s a runaway,he finds himself living at Redemption House under the watchful eye of Brother Bob who is far more dangerous than his name or title implies.

Man, what’s wrong with him?
He’s crazy.  Bat-shit crazy.

Stephen Gresham retired from Auburn University in 2008 as a full professor and currently resides in Auburn (AL).  Since Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of bat shit crazy, Idiomation has sent a communiqué to Stephen Gresham asking him where he first heard the idiom or if the expression originates with him.  As soon as we know, Idiomation fans and followers will be the next to know.  Stay tuned!

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