mad [as an intensifier]

Jacobtm

Senior Member
NY
English - New York
Mad, as in:

It's mad hot out
There's mad people here

Where does that come from? I've seen it attributed to the North-east US, specifically NY, which is where I'm from, and everyone uses it all the time.

Any idea when/how/where that started?
 
  • Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I don't think this usage is specifically to do with "mad". There's a fairly long history of using an adjective as an adverb or intensifier. "Powerful" is a good example:
    "There was a powerful deal due to the Crown..." (1800) where powerful means "great", as in "a great deal of something" (a large amount, or extent).
    "He did a powerful lot of good work..." (2005)

    Such usages were also fashionable the 19th century England, illustrated, for example, by the catch-phrase "What a shocking bad hat!"

    In modern casual speech, there is also "wicked" and "crazy" used in the same way:
    "That test was wicked hard" (Extremely difficult)
    "That thing looks crazy complicated!"
    I don't think one can attribute the origins of these usages (including the contemporary "mad") to a particular place, or even perhaps time. This usage of "mad" has certainly been in use in the UK for some time:
    "It was mad busy in there..." (Liverpool, England 2005, although I feel sure it has been in use a lot longer than this; the 90s at least, I suspect). It was also clearly in use in the US over a similar timescale.

    Of course, usages will be more fashionable in one place than in another at a particular moment, as they will tend to spread amongst local speakers in a community.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I live in New York, and I've never heard "mad" used that way, as an adverb.

    It's my understanding that "wicked" is used in a similar way, however, in parts of New England (but not in New York). And "powerful" has been thus used in some rural areas of the US.
     

    catlady60

    Senior Member
    English-US (New York City)
    I live in New York, and I've never heard "mad" used that way, as an adverb.

    It's my understanding that "wicked" is used in a similar way, however, in parts of New England (but not in New York). And "powerful" has been thus used in some rural areas of the US.
    "Mad" as an adverb comes from hip-hop culture and is a very popular slang expression with young, urban African-Americans, especially those who live in poor parts of the city.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    The OED marks "mad" as "Now regional and colloq. (esp. in African-American usage)", but it is the "now" that is interesting, as it is a usage that seems to be have been reinvented or recovered, although there is some evidence that it has never really gone away.

    Like "crazy" and "wicked", "mad" describes an extreme condition in itself, so it doesn't seem unnatural for it to be used as an intensifier for the same purpose: "Furiously, with excessive violence or enthusiasm; to the point of madness. Now usually in weakened sense, as an intensifier: greatly, excessively, extremely, very." [OED]

    It was most often used with "angry" and "drunk"—which can be more literally associated with madness, but there are examples, admittedly not highly colloquial in the way that modern usages are, such as "mad lonely" (1935) and "mad afraid" (1895). And then there is a quotation from New York magazine from 1994, strikingly similar to the 1895 usage:
    When they first bring me [to prison], man I was mad scared. Mad scared.
     

    Jacobtm

    Senior Member
    NY
    English - New York
    Just on usage, I come from a rich white suburb where people use ''mad'' all the time, it is definitely NOT restricted in use by race/class
     
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