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Etymology 1[edit]

From barm (foam rising upon beer or other malt liquors when fermenting, and used as leaven) +‎ -y (suffix meaning ‘having the quality of’ forming adjectives).[1] Barm is derived from Middle English berm, berme (foam rising upon ale or beer fermenting; leaven, yeast; foam or head of beer produced by pouring) [and other forms],[2] from Old English beorma (foam or head of beer; leaven, yeast), from Proto-West Germanic *bermō (barm; yeast), from Proto-Germanic *bermô (yeast); further etymology uncertain, perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *bʰrewh₁- (to boil; to brew)[3] or *gʷʰer- (warm; hot).


barmy (comparative barmier, superlative barmiest) (archaic)

  1. (also figuratively) Containing, covered with, or pertaining to barm (foam rising upon beer or other malt liquors when fermenting, used as leaven in brewing and making bread).
    • 1601, Ben Jonson, Poetaster or The Arraignment: [], London: [] [R. Bradock] for M[atthew] L[ownes] [], published 1602, →OCLC, Act V, scene iii, signature L4, recto:
      [T]each thy Incubus to Poëtize, / And throvve abroad thy ſpurious Snotteries, / Vpon that puft-vp Lumpe of Barmy froth, []
    • 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, page 113, lines 582–585:
      Their jovial Nights, in frollicks and in play / They paſs, to drive the tedious Hours avvay. / And their cold Stomachs vvith crovvn'd Goblets cheer, / Of vvindy Cider, and of barmy Beer.
    • 1907, Arthur Machen [pseudonym; Arthur Llewellyn Jones], chapter I, in The Hill of Dreams, London: E. Grant Richards, →OCLC, page 2:
      [H]e 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, Anne Algers, Chris K. Leach, editors, Food in Europe: Food Production, Processing and Consumption (Food in Europe; 1), Heerlen, Limburg, Netherlands: Open Universiteit Nederland, →OCLC, page 105:
      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 []
  2. (figuratively) Bubbling with activity or excitement; active, excited.

Etymology 2[edit]

Probably an alteration of balmy (foolish; slightly crazy or mad, eccentric), influenced by barm (foam rising upon beer or other malt liquors when fermenting, and used as leaven) (see etymology 1).[1]


barmy (comparative barmier, superlative barmiest) (Britain, Ireland, informal)

  1. Crazy, mad; also, eccentric, odd, strange.
    Synonyms: (US, informal) balmy, dotty, goofy, wacko; see also Thesaurus:eccentric, Thesaurus:insane
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:normal, Thesaurus:sane
  2. Very foolish.
    Synonyms: (US, informal) balmy; see also Thesaurus:foolish
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:wise
Usage notes[edit]
  • In US English, balmy is usual; elsewhere this is occasionally found but some authorities consider it erroneous, despite the fact that barmy was probably derived from it.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

Borrowed from Russian бармы (barmy).



  1. plural of barma (a regal Russian mantle or neckpiece made of gold, encrusted with diamonds and other gems)


  1. 1.0 1.1 barmy, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2023; “barmy, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ berm(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “barmy (adj.)”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.