Sons of Liberty

Samuel Adams (played by British actor Ben Barnes) fights off redcoats in the History Channel miniseries “Sons of Liberty.” Photo: Ollie Upton / Ollie Upton / The History Channel / ONLINE_YESYes, folks flying high above the Pacific Ocean (which as Woody Allen’s father concedes to his mother is a worse ocean than the Atlantic Ocean) I took in the final episode of the History Chanel’s “Sons of Liberty” a mini-series about the American Revolution. I go for historical drama of any kind – even if it’s not very good, you can learn interesting stuff or look at interesting costumes. You can let your imagination run and wonder what life was like.

The production isn’t too bad. Acting was OK. It’s been panned for various reasons including its historical inaccuracy. It wasn’t excruciating by any means, but as you watched the boredom set in. And you started to notice details. The main detail was that the British were all bad. Bad as in “Mwaaahahaha” evil laugh bad. There was the odd obvious anachronism, as much of mood as of anything else. But then there was something so extraordinary that it made me wonder whether I was in fact hallucinating. Perhaps I was drifting off and imagined it. In any event, at least as remembered by me, as they were planning some plan one of the revolutionaries said to one of the others that a particular plan was “batshit crazy”.

I’ve always been intrigued by that expression. It’s stupid that it’s an expression. Why is it an expression? Still it’s kind of fun. I didn’t know that it was coined before 1776, which raises the question of why I’ve never run into it in the Wealth of Nations. But there you go. The very nattily attired George Washingmachine and the gang were wondering around Georgetown and Bunker Hill saying “Batshit crazy” – as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident and these falsities to be batshit crazy”.

Postscript: The place from which I hoisted the picture above picture (nice clobber ey?) confirms that I wasn’t hallucinating. And as I thought I remembered it was Ben Franklin that thought something was batshit crazy – always ahead of his time.

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RexR
RexR
6 years ago

Bats are unpleasant little creatures that carry nasty pathogens like Rabies, Ebola, Hendra, and their feces is known to contain Histoplasmosis. Whether they knew all that in 1789 is not known, but they certainly knew that you’d be crazy to mess with bats or their shit.

Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
6 years ago

A person who is batshit crazy is certifiably nuts. The phrase has origins in the old fashioned term “bats in the belfry.” Old churches had a structure at the top called a belfry, which housed the bells. Bats are extremely sensitive to sound and would never inhabit a belfry of an active church where the bell was rung frequently. Occasionally, when a church was abandoned and many years passed without the bell being rung, bats would eventually come and inhabit the belfry. So, when somebody said that an individual had “bats in the belfry” it meant that there was “nothing going on upstairs” (as in that person’s brain). To be BATSHIT CRAZY is to take this even a step further. A person who is batshit crazy is so nuts that not only is their belfry full of bats, but so many bats have been there for so long that the belfry is coated in batshit. Hence, the craziest of crazy people are BATSHIT CRAZY. from Urban Dictionary

ChrisB
6 years ago

Historical fiction falls into two basic groups – times where the dialogue has to be translated because nobody would otherwise understand it, and other. Chaucer now certainly falls into the first group; I myself think that Shakespeare does too, and if he doesn’t now he soon will. Translation isn’t all bad – the Germans like Shakespeare too, perhaps more because they don’t have to listen to him in 16thC German but can have him updated regularly. The trouble with the American Revolution is that it’s pretty well in the uncanny valley where you can’t serve it up raw but still notice where it’s been changed. The issue here is whether introducing the term “batshit crazy” you’re updating a term they used or introducing a concept they wouldn’t have recognised. I’d say it’s probably the former.

ChrisB
6 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

On the other hand, Johnson’s dictionary had under “Bear” “to bear arms in a coat”, and Scalia interpreted that not as meaning that they had coats of arms but as meaning that Blackstone and his contemporaries carried concealed weapons. There are hidden springguns and mantraps in the language of the time, and for one we notice there are five we don’t. The fact that Miller had to devise his own version of the language to bring out the meanings he saw underneath their language simply underlines that.

john Walker
6 years ago

Nicholas
Have not the time to check this story, but heck this explanation of the late 19C origins of Batshit Crazy is fun :-)