A Knotty Problem

Under tremendous pressure from a complete absence of requests, I decided bring to you today another origin of a well-known phrase or saying.

I learned this only recently when I was watching a programme which looked at the history of Victorian asylums, early institutions for the mentally ill. Some were as bad as you might imagine, but there was also a very humane and progressive school of thought prevailing in others.

Anyway, for seclusion and privacy – for the patients but perhaps also so as not to upset the neighbours – the layout of these places tended to incorporate a path leading through trees and shrubbery, thus hiding the building itself from public view.

In time, those who were admitted to such institutions were said, in the vernacular, to be going round the bend.

(Another school of thought is that the phrase is nautical in origin. Regular readers will know how much I like my nautical phrases, but in this case I believe it to be much less likely. A ‘bend’ is a knot for joining together the ends of two ropes, but to a sailor it would have been a simple, basic procedure so I can’t see how it would have driven anyone ’round the bend’.)

Round this bend?

Kew Lunatic Asylum










Or round this bend?






You, the jury must decide.


About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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