In these crazy times, our minds and imaginations are sure to be “running amok.” We’re ready to go out and “paint the town red!” We get the gist of what these everyday phrases imply, but where did they actually come from? You’ll be surprised to learn that the backstory of these common sayings can get a bit morbid and weird.
Minds Running Amok
“Running amok,” originated back in the 18th and 19th centuries as a medical term. Tribesmen in Malaysia began exhibiting truly erratic behavior, running rampant on brutal and impulsive killing sprees. European visitors of this area declared these seemingly random outbreaks as a peculiar mental affliction that they called “amok.”
The term stemmed from the “Amuco,” a band of Javanese and Malay warriors who were known for their routine of indiscriminate violence. Amok is now defined as a psychic disturbance characterized by depression, followed by a manic urge to murder.
It was once thought to be the result of possession by evil spirits. Of course, in present-day, we now better understand this mania and it remains a diagnosable mental condition. But, needless to say, we certainly hope your imagination is not exactly “running amok.”
Let’s Paint the Town Red
Used in our everyday language, “painting the town red,” is basically slang for going out and having a grand old time. While its origin story is a bit more destructive, it does stem from a common past and present-day denominator: alcohol.
In 1837, the Marquis of Waterford had a bit of a mischievous and iconic night of drunkenness. Like any good friend out at the bar, he encouraged his group to follow his lead throughout a night of drinking in the English town of Melton Mowbray. Waterford and his friends did quite a number on the sleeping town—everything from vandalism to knocking over flowerpots, breaking out windows, and, quite literally, painting the town.
The group painted the doors of several homes, a tollgate, and a swan statue with a bright shade of red. Of course, upon a sober wake-up call, the pranksters paid their damages for the wild night out, and made history as the posse who quite literally, “painted the town red.”
For the Diehard Fans
Today, we refer to super fans and know-it-alls as “diehard” when it comes to their niche interests. However, in its earliest incarnation back in the 1700s, “diehard” was a bit more somber than who knows more than who about their Harry Potter House.
The expression was used to describe condemned men who struggled the longest when hanged. And if that wasn’t gruesome enough, the phrase later became even more popular in 1811 during the Battle of Albuera. In the midst of the fight, a wounded British officer urged his troops to fight on by yelling “Stand your ground and die hard…make the enemy pay dear for each of us!” This unit suffered 75% casualties during the battle and went on to be known as “the Die Hards.”