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Is the word crazy always negative and impolite?

What is the difference between crazy, mad and stupid?

Which one can be positive?

10

Generally speaking crazy is used to imply a lack of control, however this is not always negative.

Crazy can be used to imply a mental condition (v. informal, potentially offensive):

Jim is crazy

(Jim is unable to control himself, possibly implying a mental illness)

Crazy can be used to mean that someone lost control of themselves:

When Dave told Jane the news, she went crazy.

(After Dave told Jane the news, she was unable to control herself)

This use is not always negative:

I am crazy with love for you

(I am unable to control myself due to the amount of love I have for you)

Jean is totally crazy for Luke

(Jean is unable to control herself (because she likes Luke so much)).

Crazy can mean that an event was out of control:

Today has been really crazy!

(Today has been really uncontrolled (or "I have had little control over the events of today"))

Finally, crazy can also mean unbelievable:

Dave is in love with Jessica? That's totally crazy!

(Dave is in love with Jessica? That's unbelievable!)

So in answer to your question, crazy is not always impolite or negative, however it is always very informal and can, on occasion, cause offense. For this reason, try to avoid using it when speaking with people you don't know well, or in formal writing and exams.

9

Of the three words, crazy has the most potential to be put to a positive use (EDIT: @snailplane reminded me of slang like "mad skills" and "stupid cool"). All of these examples would be used in very informal speech.

  • Describing someone who has a funny, eccentric personality and would be proud to hear about it:

"Lisa, you're wearing pajamas to a movie?! I love that, you're so crazy!"

"Yeah, I know."

  • When used as an adjective, it will add emphasis like the word very or super:

"This korean stir fry is crazy spicy!"

  • Used as an expression of astonishment:

"How did you figure that out? You're so smart, it's crazy."

There are also the answers that Matt gave, I won't repeat them a second time but they are all valid.

  • 4
    Note that "crazy" meaning "very" is very informal. I would not, for example, write in a technical paper, "Upon injection of the catalyst, the temperature of the reaction underwent a crazy increase." :-) But to tell a friend, "Hey, your new car is crazy fast!" is acceptable. – Jay Mar 6 '13 at 21:59
  • Yes, very informal. Is it an age-specific thing too? I find now that I'm firmly past my twenties, my days of using slang gratuitously are a thing of the past. Sayings like "That's cool" and "I was like..." are burned into my brain though. – Trish Rempel Mar 6 '13 at 23:52
2

It depends on how the words are used in sentences. When the words are used in a positive manner then it gives a positive vibe. eg. “I’m crazy about you”, “she’s mad about him.”

These words can also be used to refer to mental illness in a casual manner. “His uncle is crazy.” “He’s a madman”

Stupid is a very generic term, generally impolite/derogatory unless you are using it on yourself in a self-deprecating way. eg “I’m stupid for not paying my bills on time.”

2

I will leave crazy as negative and impolite alone, because they have been well addressed.

Crazy and mad have a range of meanings in English, and the difference between US/Canadian English and Queen's (UK, etc.) English is noteworthy here. In US English, mad usually means angry, with the exception of the phrase to go mad which means to go insane, to go crazy. Crazy and mad in this sense both mean mentally ill. In US English, mad usually means angry and is used in sentences like:

  • She is mad.
  • She got mad.

The first sentence, in particular, in the UK, would be taken to speak of mental health. In the US, that sense is rarer and it would be taken to mean an emotional state of anger.

Stupid means, literally, unintelligent. It also has a connotation of a sort of foolish way of being unintelligent; it is not merely some who is mentally disabled. In the US, we are particularly sensitive about reflections on our intelligence. I don't know how acceptable it is in the UK, but in the US at least, stupid should not be used to describe someone you'd like to stay on good terms with. It is likely to damage the relationship, even if you only mean it as a joking.

All three words can be used in very informal conversation in different regions, in different ways, as replacements for the word very or many, though with slightly varying usages.

  • That woman is crazy sexy.
  • That guy has mad skills.
  • The lottery has a stupid huge jackpot.
2

Crazy: insane, out of control

Mad: (1) insane, (2) angry

Stupid: of or demonstrating very low intelligence

"Mad" used to be a fairly clinical term, something a psychiatrist might use to describe a patient, but I think that is now largely obsolete, and the clinical term has become "mentally ill" (or more specific terms, like "schizophrenic", "psychotic", etc) Today it is mostly used as an informal term. "You must be mad to do something like that!" "When the band came on stage, the crowd went mad!" Etc.

Any word can acquire a slang meaning that is rather far from the literal meaning, so I'd be cautious before saying that some word can NEVER be used positively. I'm sure that if, for example, you attempted a dangerous stunt and a friend said, "Man, that was a really stupid stunt you just pulled!", but he said it with an admiring tone to his voice, you might well take it as a compliment. But in general, "mad" and "stupid" are insulting words. "Stupid" is very insulting. "Crazy" is more mixed. It depends on context. Others have given examples.

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The word, crazy, can be either negative or positive, depending on the context in which it is used. The posted answers to this question gave excellent examples of both.

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In every response that describes a positive use of the word crazy, it is still being used to imply marginality, difference, other, excessive. These are all accurate descriptors for mental illness. This is an implicit language use that is incredibly problematic ONLY because of the actual consequences that both implicit and explicit stigma (ubiquitous use of "mad" or "crazy" to imply othering being implicit; assuming all mentally ill are unemployable or dangerous being the explicit) are incredibly impactful in preventing those with mental illness from seeking life-saving treatment, they lead to internalized stigma. 90% of all suicides are the result of mental illness. You do the math. No need to eradicate it from your vocabulary, I catch myself using crazy all the time. But, being aware, considering, taking even a moment to reflect when you do, is probably called for. Think about the way the word "gay" was used 10-15 years ago, with negative connotations. This is the same thing.

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