When you encounter someone who seems more than a little unstable and you decide to describe their mentally-disturbed status, would you describe that person as star craving or stark raving mad?
We’ve all encountered people who seem, at least on the surface, to not quite be “all there.” But there’s a level of mental condition that is disturbing and even frightening that is often described with the word mad. Mad, in this usage, refers to insane, not angry, although the person may seem angry as well as crazy.
This usage of mad is mad may be less common these days, and when you do hear it, it’s entirely possible that a curious pair of words may proceed it.
This brings us to another eggcorn, a word that is the result of a mishearing of a different word.
I saw someone a while back write out the phrase “star craving mad.” That’s an eggcorn. It’s an eggcorn, though, that does have a bit of logic behind it, if you can imagine a crazy person howling at the moon as if from a scene from some bad horror movie somewhere.
But since the person wasn’t writing about some wannabe werewolf, instead of “star craving,” what the person meant to write was stark raving.
Stark mad was first recorded by poet John Skelton in 1489; stark raving was first recorded by playwright John Beaumont in 1648; stark staring mad was first used by John Dryden in 1693. The current wording, stark raving mad, first appeared in Henry Fielding’s The Intriguing Chambermaid in 1734.
The word stark means “entirely” or “to the fullest extent.”
The word raving in this usage, doesn’t mean the incoherent rambling most would associate it with, but rather is an adjective that is used to boost the extremity of the word that follows it.
So stark raving mad ends up meaning something along the lines of “entirely, intensely crazy.”
Note the comma after entirely: the comma is used to separate a pair of adjectives that modify the same word. That’s why, in the rare times you see the phrase written out, it will often have a comma as well: stark, raving mad.