Some people think that the ideas expressed by Libertarian-Tea Partyish-Neo-Republicans like Rand Paul are refreshingly candid. These ideas include the notion that civil rights legislation should not prevent racial discrimination by private businesses, that it’s un-American to criticize big business, and that the Federal Reserve should be eliminated—and while you’re at it, get rid of the income tax as well. Other people think such ideas are simply cockamamie.
Far be it from this apolitical commentary to take sides on such a controversial issue, lest I offend my myriad Libertarian-Tea Partyish-Neo-Republican readers. But surely there’s no harm in taking a firm stand in favor of the word cockamamie—that is ridiculous, far-fetched, inane, crackpot, worthless, and nonsensical. You can apply it to whatever ideas you think appropriate.
I had always thought cockamamie was a Yiddish word, synonymous with meshuggah; in fact, you’ll find it in some Yiddish word lists. But as it happens—sacrebleu!—the word’s origin is French. It stems from décalcomanie (whence, also, decal), and was a word used in the mid-nineteenth century to refer to the peculiar craze for decorating objects with transfers. The etymology is from décalquer (“to apply a tracing or transfer) and manie (“mania”).
Apparently, scads of American youngsters happily applied the colorful decals that came in candy wrappers to every surface they could find, including their own bodies. During the early twentieth century, especially in New York City, the practice became known as cockamamie, an English garbling of décalcomanie. How the word took on its present meaning is not clear, but probably through some allusion to the tawdriness and absurdity of putting decals on one’s body.
Tawdriness and absurdity are the stock-in-trade of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, whose political views are difficult to comprehend and impossible to articulate. Here is his most recent campaign statement:
A decalcomanic dog and a cockamamie cat
Were invited out to dinner by a borborygmic bat.
Ere sitting down to dine
They chatted over wine:
Two were fierce Republicans, and one a Democrat.
Quite soon the fur was flying in a heated conversation
On national security, financial regulation,
Health care and income tax,
Bad deeds of Goldman Sachs,
And things got really nasty when they mentioned immigration.
They called each other dreadful names, and insults vile they spat,
But finally they got hungry and decided that was that.
They sat down to the table
As fast as they were able—
And found their food all eaten by an Independent rat.