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February 18, 2006

The origin of 'crack' — the adjective


I got to wondering last week how the term acquired its meaning of "superb" or "outstanding" so I visited the Online Etymology Dictionary.

The information up top appeared, tracing the word's origin when used as a verb, noun and adjective.

But "... as in 'top–notch, superior' is slang from 1793" really doesn't answer the question how?

It does say when but I'm after more.

So then I wandered over to the Oxford English Dictionary's website hoping they'd let me try it out for free.

No such luck: if I want to see what they have to say about the origin of the word "crack" it will cost me $295 for a one–year subscription.

Bad thinking on their part — they'd make far more money by charging $30 a year and then acquiring multiples of ten times more subscribers like moi: if that were the price I'd be giving you their info now as I'd have signed up on the spot.

Oftimes people — and companies — don't realize that the virtual world is an entirely different place, with its own novel set of practices and effective ways of doing things, than the land of atoms.

But I digress.

I did find out the origin of the phrase "the crack of doom" — it's from "Macbeth."

FunFact: When someone asks if you know the source of a quotation respond, with authority and assurance, "The Bible or Shakespeare."

You'll be right 50% of the time and they won't know which 50% you're in just then; in almost all instances they'll think you're far smarter than you really are.

Hey, joe — speak for yourself.


Now where was I?

Oh, yes, I'm still chasing "crack."

OK, then.

They don't call them the crack research team for nothing; I say this because just now, after two days and sleepless nights of all–out online investigation and countless fruitless trips down myriad rabbit holes, they've returned from wherever it is they went (me, I really don't want to know, sort of like with how my sausages are made) with what appears to be the answer.

This, from The Phrase Finder: Crack — First-rate, excellent, as 'a crack regiment' or 'a crack shot.' Formerly the word was used as a noun for a lively young fellow, a wag.

"Indeed, La! 'tis a noble child; a crack, madam." — Shakespeare: Coriolanus, I, iii (1607).

As I was saying....

February 18, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Rob beat me to it, but yes: good times and good friends, with or without the Harp Ale.

Posted by: Mb | Feb 18, 2006 5:50:37 PM

Well, I've been trying to get enough votes to graduate from the crackpot research team to the crack research team, but it obviously ain't going to happen anytime soon. (But at least I didn't have to start from the lowest level - or is it the highest in Bizarro World? - the crackbrained research team.)

Maybe I'll just have to create my very own category, sans votes...the crackerjoe research team, say, rather than crackerjack, perhaps.

OFFICIAL BOOKOFJOE CRACKPOT RESEARCH TEAM BONUS: "Crackpot" is a remarkably recent word, first appearing in the late 1800s. "Crackpot" is short for "cracked pot" - "pot" being slang for the human head since the 16th century. (The implication of "crackpot" is that the person is behaving oddly because her head is actually damaged.)

Official bookofjoe crackpot research team member indeed. But remember, one man's crackpot is another man's prophet. ;)

Posted by: Shawn Lea | Feb 18, 2006 11:32:47 AM

Don't forget the Irish term "craick" meaning "to have a good time," which is pronounced the same as "crack."

Posted by: Rob O'Daniel | Feb 18, 2006 10:30:06 AM

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