Stop! Do not write that comment! Or at least hold off until you read the whole post.
I am well aware that bonkers is and has long been common in American English. This Google Ngram chart shows that in the ’90s, U.S. use of the word (in red) was more frequent than British use (blue):
And at this point, it’s hard to avoid on either side of the Atlantic. Here’s what a Google News search turns up:
But the word is most definitely of British origin. The first citation from the Oxford English Dictionary is from a 1945 Daily Mirror article: “If we do that often enough, we won’t lose contact with things and we won’t go ‘bonkers’.”
Three years later, Eric Partridge included it in A Dictionary of Forces’ Slang: “Bonkers, light in the head; slightly drunk. (Navy.) Perhaps from bonk, a blow or punch on the bonce or head.”
Throughout the ’50s, the uses of the word I’ve turned up are all from British writers:
- From a 1951 novel by Philip Loraine, A Break in the Circle: “‘You bonkers?’ enquired Rocky. ‘Maybe.'”
- From John Osborne’s play The Entertainer (1957): “We’re drunks, maniacs, we’re crazy, we’re bonkers, the whole flaming bunch of us.”
- From Kingsley Amis, Take Girl Like You, in 1960: “Julian’s absolutely bonkers too you know.”
The first use in the New York Times was a 1965 by the great Israel Shenker: “In ‘Paranoia,’ his newest picture, Italy’s Marcello Mastroianni goes slowly bonkers sharing bath, bed and Bedouin with three co-stars.”
That quote doesn’t even show up when you search for “bonkers” in the Times “Chronicle” app:
Let’s take a look at the entire Ngram chart, from 1955 to 2008 (the last year for which there are good statistics):
It shows British prevalence through about 1976, then equivalence until 1987, American dominance for the next fifteen years, and then (surprisingly) a resurgence in Britain.
Now go ahead and comment.