Etymology 1Edit

Probably an alteration of balmy. The meaning “foolish” is from late 19th c.[1] so this usage may be derived from Barming in Kent, the location of the county's psychiatric hospital (then called Barming Asylum) from 1833. Before baker's yeast was available from breweries, bakers would have a 'barm tub' where they would toss in spare bits of dough and let it ferment to produce a yeasty liquid to leaven their bread. Bakers would drink from this freshly fermented alcoholic brew and it had a powerful effect, making the consumer 'barmy.'


barmy (comparative barmier, superlative barmiest)

  1. (Britain, Ireland) Odd, strange, or crazy.
    Synonyms: (US) balmy, dotty, goofy, wacko
    • 1872, Janet Millett, An Australian Parsonage:
      [] when I remonstrated with him on his having quitted it he assigned as a reason for doing so that the exercise yard of the "barmy fellows," as he called the madmen, (meaning, I suppose, that their brains were in an unnatural state of working,) was but a stone's throw from himself and his rational companions []
    • 1897, William Somerset Maugham, chapter 9, in Liza of Lambeth:
      'Bli'me if I know wot yer all talkin' abaht. You're all barmy on the crumpet,' said Liza indignantly, and, turning her back on them, made for home.
    • 2013 September 13, Russell Brand, “Russell Brand and the GQ awards: 'It's amazing how absurd it seems'”, in The Guardian[1]:
      I thanked John, said the "oracle award" sounds like a made-up prize you'd give a fat kid on sports day – I should know, I used to get them – then that it's barmy that Hugo Boss can trade under the same name they flogged uniforms to the Nazis under and the ludicrous necessity for an event such as this one to banish such a lurid piece of information from our collective consciousness.
Usage notesEdit
  • In US English, balmy is usual; elsewhere this is occasionally found but some authorities consider it erroneous, despite its probable etymology.
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

From Old English beorma (yeast).


barmy (comparative barmier, superlative barmiest)

  1. (rare) Containing barm, i.e. froth from fermented yeast.
    • 1697, Virgil, “The Third Book of the Georgics”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC:
      Their jovial Nights, in frollicks and in play
      They pass, to drive the tedious Hours away:
      And their cold Stomachs with crown'd Goblets cheer,
      Of windy Cider, and of barmy Beer.
    • 1907, Arthur Machen, The Hill of Dreams:
      [] and he stood for a while on the quivering footbridge and watched the rush of dead wood and torn branches and wisps of straw, all hurrying madly past him, to plunge into the heaped spume, the barmy froth that had gathered against a fallen tree.
    • 1997, Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga, Food in Europe: Food] production, processing and consumption:
      Here the yeast is added to convert the sugars to alcohol, also producing carbon dioxide. After about 24 hours the fermentation has created a thick head of barmy foam []

Etymology 3Edit

From Russian бармы (barmy).



  1. plural of barma


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “barmy”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.