• adjective Brit. Informal completely mad, insane.
Originally – ‘barking mad’
I will admit to be totally flummoxed on first trip the US when I overheard someone saying their dogs were barking. A quick glance ascertained that there where no dogs in sight. I then realised, when the pulled off their shoes and started massaging their feet, that barking dogs* were in fact sore feet.
In good old Blighty, Barking has a totally different meaning.
The origins of the phrase barking mad are a little hazy. I’ve always assumed it was a reference to the Victorian idea that lunatics howled at the moon. Peter Ackroyd in his book, London: A Biography , suggests that monks in medieval times had a lunatic asylum in Barking (Essex), which gave rise to the term. Most researchers believe that the term actually dates from the early 20th Century. The earliest reference to barking mad verified by the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1933:
Mr Jiggins of Jigginstown - Christine Packenham (Countess Longford):
“But he was mad! Barking mad!”.
By the 1960’s, barking was being used on it’s own:
Don’t Tell Alfred - Nancy Mitford, 1960:
“If Dr Jore comes here every day like he says he’s going to he will drive me mad. Really, properly barking”.
Other variations on a theme are:
“Two sandwiches short of a picnic”,
“three sheep short in the top paddock”
“two bricks short of a load”. etc
My own personal favourite, for which you will need a little knowledge of the London Underground District Line, is He’s three stops down from Plaistow … as Barking Station is three stops further on the Plaistow on the District Line. Good old East London humour!