You know, sometimes I come across a word in print that I swear I’ve never seen written before. Last week it was harebrained. I paused, contemplated the spelling, reread and evaluated the context (fictional character Stephanie Plum is a harebrained bounty hunter), wondered about its derivation, and considered whether hair-brained was equally correct.
The answer, after much deep and interesting research (some days I totally LIVE for research) is “no,” although even in the 16th century some wanted to misspell it and considered it to refer to a brain smaller than a hair. The word harebrained (and it is NOT hyphenated) means foolish, stupid, outlandish, etc., and it is thought to have derived from a reference to having the brain of a rabbit, or a hare in heat, as in mad March hares.
Of course, my brain synapses immediately acknowledged the brilliance of Lewis Carroll in using a white rabbit in the outrageous tale of Alice and Wonderland. He was no dumb bunny when he created that character!
Carroll notwithstanding, harebrained is most commonly looked upon as a less-than-stellar adjective, the poster child for which is undoubtedly Lucy Ricardo. Despite the implied comic relief, I think if I were a hare, I’d be insulted.