I know they all refer to unusual behaviour in a person. But in modern life while you work and you meet a native speaker of English in America and then there is a conversation what do the words really mean?

  • 1
    Any of those terms can be totally benign if said while smiling and laughing. Psychopath, narcissist and sociopath can't be said so lightly. Mar 29, 2014 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


From American Heritage Dictionary -

Nut (slang) - a crazy or an eccentric person

This would indicate that the terms nutty, crazy and eccentric may be interchangeable in some contexts.

Now my opinion (sorry, not a native though!).

When you call someone 'crazy', it adds a bit of danger there (Don't go near him, he's crazy, he can beat up you); nut is more kind of a fool, funny looking OR (at times innocent? -I remember Mary Jane calling you are such a nut to Peter Parker); eccentric is a person with odd or unusual personality.

  • @J.R. eccentric is noun as well and it's plural is eccentrics
    – Maulik V
    Mar 30, 2014 at 1:31
  • Very true, good point – it can be used that way. More often than not, though, you'll see it used as an adjective (interesting Ngram).
    – J.R.
    Mar 30, 2014 at 9:11

In order of severity, from greatest to least:

1. Nut

This can be very insulting and is only used informally. Similar to: nutcase, nut job, loony, etc.

There is, however, a non-insulting use: It can also mean very enthusuastic about something like a hobby or interest as in sports nut. Meaning: a person who loves sports a lot.

2. Crazy

Although less informal than the first one, the two terms are fairly the same. However, you may hear it used lightly to express surprise or disbelief like in this scenario:

Jesse: "I broke up with James last night."

Meowth: "That's crazy."

3. Eccentric

It can mean:

  1. slightly strange or just weird as in eccentric taste

  2. unconventional as in eccentric billionaire

Although, this may be used as a euphemism for the first two terms.

  • I'm not inclined to downvote, but I disagree. To me (an American) the terms are fairly equivalent and usually used in a "harmless" kind of way. Mar 30, 2014 at 1:53
  • @Jolenealaska That's why I included the "harmless" uses. The differences are subtle: To me 1 and 2 may be interchangeable, but I can't say the same for 3.
    – Helix Quar
    Mar 30, 2014 at 2:19
  • 1
    Even after that exchange, I think we fundamentally disagree. You refer to the word "nut" as insulting, even very insulting. Even in a context that excludes the use that means "fan", I'm not seeing the term as being particularly insulting. As a matter of fact, I've more often used it as a way to be kind of complimentary. Mar 30, 2014 at 2:43
  • @Jolenealaska In an attempt to highlight the nuance of each word, my answer may appear to exaggerate the difference. Also, I already pointed out that the "sports nut" usage is non-insulting, so I think you may have misread or I just wasn't clear enough.
    – Helix Quar
    Mar 31, 2014 at 14:05
  • 1
    @Jolenealaska as a fellow American I would have to disagree. I think Helix Quar answered it perfectly and personally I find being called nuts far more insulting then being called crazy Jun 15, 2021 at 7:53

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