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What does this mean? And where did it come from?
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This means crazy or insane. The origin is unknown, but I imagine it's sopposed to mean a person who is not doing what they are sopposed to, like a train that has jumped its tracks.
For steam-powered machines that ran at varying speeds, it was clearly not practical to control the speed of operation by producing varying amounts of steam. Instead mechanisms were incorporated that regulated the amount of steam that actually drove the machine. An integral part of such a regulator is the rocker, hence if a machine was 'off its rocker' it meant its regulator was shot and the machine was out of control.
From http://www.briggs13.fsnet.co.uk/book/q%20&%20r.htm. Looks as if Purple Dragon might have been on track with the train reference.
"Rocker: If someone is off his rocker, then he is thought to be a little mad or deluded. I can find no documentary evidence for the origin of this saying, and none is forthcoming from the SHU Phrase Discussion site. However, it has been suggested that it came from early days of steam engine development....in particular beam engines....the beam engine rocks back and forth and if it comes off the pivot (rocker) it goes mad, flailing about and smashing up everything about it.Another possibility - not very convincing to my mind - is that it describes the antics of some having just fallen off a rocking chair!"
in short it means "he went crazy"
not sure of it's accuracy, but just came across this info as to the origin of "off his rocker" while researching printing methods.....Mezzotints are produced on copper plates. The entire surface of the plate is roughed with a tool, shaped like a wide chisel with a curved and serrated edge - the Mezzotint Rocker. By rocking the toothed edge backwards and forwards over the plate, a rough burr is cast up which holds the ink. Once this is completed, a drawing can be transferred onto the plate, using carbon paper. When printed, the textured ground reads as a uniform dark; the areas to be lightened are scraped and burnished - therefore, working from dark to light - a reverse technique to etching and engraving. Little can compare the Mezzotint in the richness of its blacks; it is unique among the intaglio printmaking processes. The preparation of the plate can take 15 hours or more before the artist can start work on the design, but the beautiful, soft velvety finish is so unique to the mezzotint process that it more than justifies the skill and patience involved. In the 18th Century, small boys were employed to 'rock' the plates up and the extreme tediousness of the work, combined with the poor pay and working conditions, sent many of the poor things into mental decline, hence the term "off one's rocker".
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