Wednesday, April 05, 2006

March Madness

I meant to write about March madness, and here it is, April already! The cultural form of March madness is over. I remotely sensed it had something to do with basketball, but fortunately I got to witness its origins in my front yard, so I have a better understanding of the etymological roots of the disease.

Beyond the temptation of alliteration, March madness has a fine pedigree, dating to 1546 according to Wikipedia. The phrase might have died out long ago (along with “mad as a hatter”) had Lewis Carroll not reinforced it in 1863 in Alice’s Adventures Underground, beloved to modern readers as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and thus ensured its continuity into the present day.

Why is the March hare mad? First, recall that “mad” comes down to us mostly as a synonym for insane, senseless, illogical. Only later did it develop its current common use as angry.

In short, the March hare has spring fever. Clearly March madness has something to do with those passions that erupt in spring, as the breeding cycle begins. Our local cottontails are always a bit impulsive, dashing under cars and such—but last month they were truly senseless, more willy-nilly than ever, and seemingly without provocation.

One morning I looked out to see a pair of cottontails chasing each other. Finally one stopped short, stood up, and boxed at the other, all part of the March madness, I assumed. Sure enough, says Wikipedia, “unreceptive females use their forelegs to repel overenthusiastic males.” So perhaps the poor male March hare, a rejected suitor, has reason to be angry as well as “mad!”

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