No doubt, you’ll know that the big movie event of the weekend is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, the movie is sure to be my favorite movie of all time. Unless it isn’t.
The character of the Mad Hatter is obviously based on the phrase, “Mad as a Hatter,” which has several interesting origins.
One of the most popular, and for our purposes, obvious possibilities is that hat makers in the 17th and 18th century used the element mercury when making felt hats. Mercury is quite poisonous and causes Korsakoff’s syndrome, which results in amnesia and false memories among other things.
The first recorded use of the phrase comes in a fiction conversation in the January-June 1829 issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine:
NORTH: Many years – I was Sultan of Bello for a long period, until dethroned by an act of the grossest injustice ; but I intend to expose the traitorous conspirators to the indignation of an outraged world.
TICKLER (aside to SHEPHERD.): He’s raving.
SHEPHERD (to TICKLER.): Dementit.
ODOHERTY (to both.): Mad as a hatter. Hand me a segar.