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hay +‎ wire The original meaning of 'likely to become tangled unpredictably or unusably, or fall apart', as though only bound with the kind of soft, springy wire used to bind hay bales [1] comes from usage in New England lumber camps circa 1905 where haywire outfit became the common term to refer to slap-dash collections of logging tools. To go haywire has since evolved to represent the act of falling apart or behaving unpredictably, as would wire spooled under tension springing into an unmanageable tangle once a piece had been removed from the factory spool, e.g., "he took off the back of his watch, removed a gear and the whole works went haywire."


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈheɪ.waɪ.ə(ɹ)/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈheɪ.waɪɚ/
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haywire (plural haywires)

  1. Wire used to bind bales of hay.
    • 1886 May 6, W. A. Huffman Implement Company, “Superior Lawn Mowers!”, in Fort Worth Daily Gazette[1], page 7:



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haywire (comparative more haywire, superlative most haywire)

  1. Roughly-made, unsophisticated, decrepit (from the use of haywire for temporary repairs).
  2. Behaviorally erratic or uncontrollable, especially of a machine or mechanical process; usually used with the verb "go".
    It was working fine until it went haywire and wouldn't stop printing blank sheets.
    Those kids go haywire when they don't get what they want.
    • 1905 May, J. W. Reading, “Engine Failures”, in Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal[2], volume XXXIX, number 5, page 423:
      The engineer who makes of his calling a burden, who sees nothing but the wrong, or imposition as he may term it, who fancies perhaps that the whole world has conspired against him, who commences to damn things as soon as he appears upon the scene of his labors, and continues to damn everything, including his train crew, the engine, the officers, and almost everything, animate and inanimate, while making the round trip, is working out his own destiny, and it is but charitable to say of such a man that he is not well, his digestion has gone " hay wire " as it were.
    • 1928, Horace Marden Albright, Frank J. Taylor, chapter 1, in "Oh, Ranger!": A Book about the National Parks[3], page 1:
      "I got phone orders at Tuolumne Meadows to pack up and come over Sunrise Trail. Started at sunrise. Everything haywire, including cranky pack horse which kept getting off trail. Phoned in at Vernal Falls station. Ordered to hurry down, help catch two auto thieves which broke jail just after breakfast. Assigned to guard Coulterville Road.
    • 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Picador, →ISBN, page 103:
      Temperatures soared—the seas warmed by as much as eighteen degrees—and the chemistry of the oceans went haywire, as if in an out-of-control aquarium.


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