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Crazy and Insane


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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Leah from Vietnam.

Question:

Hi! I'm Leah from Vietnam. I would like to know the difference between "insane" and "crazy".

Thank you so much!

Leah

Answer:

Dear Leah,

I really appreciate the question. These two words may appear as synonyms in some situations. But in recent years, their usage and meanings have changed with increased knowledge of mental health issues.

Let us start with “crazy.”

“Crazy” is mostly used as an adjective and can have several different meanings that are informal.

Its first meaning is foolish, strange, wild or intense.

The crazy kittens knocked over their water bowl because they were so excited.

In this example, the kittens were a little wild and foolishly spilled the water.

A second meaning of “crazy” is really enthusiastic, interested in, or in love with something. We usually use the preposition “about” with the word.

The couple is crazy about each other; they are always holding hands.

And crazy can also mean mentally sick or unbalanced. This meaning is falling out of use because now there is more awareness and sensitivity towards mental health issues.

An example from recent years can be seen in the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

The song for the show is about the main character, Rebecca Bunch, an ex-girlfriend who is “crazy” and not doing well with her mental health.

At the time, people criticized the use of “crazy” in the show’s title. But the creator and star, Rachel Bloom, also helped to increase awareness of mental health issues through the TV show.

Let’s move on to “insane.”

“Insane” has a stronger, more negative association than crazy. As an adjective, it was once used to describe people with severe mental illness. But it is no long used in the field of medicine.

Today, some people, especially younger ones, use it to mean extremely foolish, irrational, or not able to make good decisions. Those kinds of meanings are falling out of use.

Another, more recent use as an adjective can mean shocking, outrageous, or intense. This meaning is similar to “crazy.”

Compare these examples:

I had an insane day at work.

In this example, “insane” means intense and busy.

The pasta sauce smells insane.

Here the sauce has an intense and wonderful smell.

“Crazy” and “insane,” as adjectives, are used informally to mean foolish, intense, or not believable. If they are used this way, they can be synonyms.

Insane is stronger and often sounds more negative than crazy. Crazy is more normal in informal speech when showing enthusiasm or even expressing love. But, both terms have in the past been used to describe people with mental illnesses.

While both terms are still used informally, saying them in the wrong situation can be a mistake.

I hope these explanations and examples have helped you, Leah!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

synonymn. a word that is similar in meaning to another word

mental health n. well-being of your mind, emotions, and social needs

stereotypesn. common, over-simplified and negative ideas of people or their roles in life

enthusiastic –adj. feeling or showing strong excitement about something; filled with or marked by enthusiasm

negative –adj. harmful or bad; not wanted

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