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Chris -- 2018-04-11
‘Look here, sir,’ he said, almost kindly, ‘you’re balmy. Had a whack on the head, I expect.’1
‘You’re barmy if you expect me to believe that, you’re round the twist—’2
Balmy <<>> barmy is phonetically similar to that was discussed this morning. I was surprised to find that, as epithets for loopy, these are both legitimate, with independent origins, having grown together in meaning, and surely not by coincidence. Balmy, for delicately fragrant and salubrious, was adopted into London slang for weak-minded or idiotic in the mid 19th c. Barmy means bubbly or frothy and is applied to a beer with a nice head of suds, or barm. Barmy has also indicated “excitable, flighty” for about 400 years. It took on the sense of “crazy” in the late 19th c.
They seem to be mixed up in other contexts as well. I found plenty of hits for people enjoying the “warm barmy air”, which I also heard on BBC radio earlier today. (Although a search on “barmy weather” mostly got articles about bizarre summer snows, etc.)