NPG 563; John Ray by Unknown artist

John Ray (1627-1705) – image: National Portrait Gallery






dizzy; affected with a reeling sensation and feeling as if about to fall
causing or tending to cause vertigo
impulsive; scatter-brained





This adjective is from Old English gidig, insane, mad, from the Germanic base of god. Its underlying sense was possessed by a god.

Similarly, Old English had ylfig, insane, literally elf-possessed.

The noun enthusiasm has a similar origin. It is from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthous, possessed by a god, inspired, based on theos, god (cf. the English word theology). The original meanings of enthusiasm were possession by a god, supernatural inspiration, prophetic or poetic frenzy.


In A Collection of English Words (1674), the naturalist and theologian John Ray (1627-1705) wrote, in the chapter titled North Countrey Words:

Giddy: mad with anger. The word Giddy is common all England over, to signifie Dizzy or by a metaphor unconstant, Giddy-headed : but not to signify furious or intoxicated with anger, in which sence [sic] the word Mad is elsewhere used.

As late as 1828, in The dialect of Craven, in the West-Riding of the county of York, William Carr wrote that giddy meant “furious, heated with anger”.


The sense having a sensation of whirling and a tendency to fall or stagger of giddy is first exemplified in the compound turngiddy, attested in the late 14th century. It was used as a noun meaning giddiness, dizziness, by John Wycliffe in the Early Version (around 1382) of his translation of the Bible; the Book of Isaiah, 19:14, is:

The Lord mengde in his myddel the spirit of turnegidy; and to erren thei maden Egipt in al his werk, as erreth a drunke man and a vomende.

In the New International Version, this verse is:

The Lord has poured into them
a spirit of dizziness;
they make Egypt stagger in all that she does,
as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.

In Manipulus Vocabulorum. A Dictionarie of English and Latine wordes (1570), the lexicographer Peter Levens (floruit 1552-87) translated “gyddie” as Latin vertiginosus, which means vertiginous, affected by vertigo.


In The Life and Death of Richard the Third (around 1592), William Shakespeare (1564-1616) makes the Duke of Clarence use giddy in the sense causing dizziness:

Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower,
And was embark’d to cross to Burgundy;
And, in my company, my brother Gloucester;
Who from my cabin tempted me to walk
Upon the hatches: thence we looked toward England.
[...]. As we paced along
Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,
Methought that Gloucester stumbled; and, in falling,
Struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard,
Into the tumbling billows of the main.

And in The Rape of Lucrece (1594), Shakespeare used the adjective to mean whirling with bewildering rapidity:

To spoil antiquities of hammer’d steel,
And turn the giddy round of fortune’s wheel.

In The First part of King Henry the Sixth (around 1591), by the same author, the Mayor of London uses giddy in the sense of mentally intoxicated:

O, my good lords, and virtuous Henry,
Pity the city of London, pity us!
The bishop and the Duke of Gloucester’s men,
Forbidden late to carry any weapon,
Have fill’d their pockets full of pebble stones
And banding themselves in contrary parts
Do pelt so fast at one another’s pate
That many have their giddy brains knock’d out:
Our windows are broke down in every street
And we for fear compell’d to shut our shops.

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