Origins of Common Words - Crank

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word crank.


Crank - Whether referring to the handle on a Tin Lizzie or a person on a shooting spree, crank means something bent, mentally or physically. Though originally it referred exclusively to a handle, by the 1800s crank described an eccentric idea or action, a mental bend or twist. Sometime around 1880, Americans extended the word to someone pursuing such an activity, a usage popularized by Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President Garfield, for he called himself a crank. A more fanciful--and less likely--derivation is a description of Horace Greeley as being "like the crank of a hand-organ, continually grinding out the same old tunes."

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