Word of the Week – doolally

In this political season there’s plenty of rhetoric on all sides claiming the patriotic high ground. The suffix, “-ism” is used to form nouns that refer to a set of political, or religious beliefs, studies, or ways of behaving: patriotism, feminism, globalism, and jingoism.  Referring to another person’s “isms” frequently introduces a criticism. For example, the eighteenth century writer, Samuel Johnson once said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Jingoism means boasting of patriotism and favoring aggressive, threatening foreign policy. According to The Queen’s English, by C.J. Moore, the word is derived from a British music-hall song popular in the 1870s. It had the rousing refrain, “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.” (At that time the term, by Jingo, was one of those euphemisms we discussed in a prior posting, to avoid the profanity of “by God” or “by Jesus.”)

The experts who give us their spin on the television news are frequently called political “pundits,” a word derived from the Hindi. It predates the era of British high colonialism which introduced many Indian words into the English language: jungle, khaki, pajamas, veranda, shampoo and doolally.

Doolally? It’s a term that’s been retained in England but used less in America. According to Moore, the usual usage is “to go doolally,” which means, a little bit, temporarily, crazy. The British army had an asylum in Deolali, near Bombay, where shell-shocked soldiers recuperated. When they returned home, their friends and neighbors noted that they’d “gone to Deolali.” Some say the term “to go around the bend” was derived from the same situation, referring to the geography of the railway line from Bombay to Deolali.

I’d like to find the right occasion to use the phrase, “I think he’s gone doolally.” Maybe I could work it in as a response to those pundits on the news.