Mad as a Hatter, An Adder, or An Oyster

The mercury-based compounds used in 19th century hat making had unfortunate side effects for those engaged in the trade. Many today believe that these side effects – including slurred speech, unsteadiness, and paranoia – led to the popular phrase “as mad as a hatter.” It certainly makes sense. However, in actuality, the connection between such symptoms and exposure to mercury was not recognized until the 20th century. Where then did the phrase “as mad as a hatter” originate? As late as the 1890s, Victorian scholars were still attempting to puzzle this out. There were many theories and, surprisingly, few of them had anything to do with hats.

The 1889 edition of Beckwith’s Almanac traces the phrase back to the Anglo-Saxon word…

Source: Mad as a Hatter, An Adder, or An Oyster

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