What does one say or do if they think that a person's idea, behaviour, etc. is crazy to their mind?

For instance:
In Germany, when someone dangerously passes you, you will show them by tipping your finger on your forehead(or temple) that they "has a bird" (literal translation of "einen Vogel haben"). This action is called "jemandem den Vogel zeigen", literally translated: "to show someone the bird".

I found the phrase "bats in the belfry" which has a similar meaning to the German phrase. I haven't heard it before, and I'm not sure if this phrase is in common use.

What do you usually say? Do you also have a gesture like tipping your finger on your forehead/temple? And is it insulting by law?

I'm interested in both American and British phrases and gesture.

Just as side note: In Germany it is highly controversial if it is an insult by law or not. There were several court decisions pro and contra.

  • 1
    The court doesn't decide if it's offensive. It only decides if it's an insult as defined by the law, that's quite a bit different ;-) – Joachim Sauer May 18 '12 at 9:19
  • @JoachimSauer Yes, you're right. :D I amended my question, thanks. – Em1 May 18 '12 at 9:19
  • @Em1, I remember you that questions on English Language and Usage - Stack Exchange are expected to generally relate to English language and usage, within the scope defined in the faq. – user21032 May 18 '12 at 9:33
  • "Bats in the belfry" is closer to saying that someone has dementia, usually age-related, rather than they have done something "crazy". "Has a bird" sounds more temporary. – Max Williams Dec 17 '14 at 15:45

You're asking about three things: a gesture, an idiom, and showing someone the bird.

One gesture sometimes used in the U.S. to indicate "you're crazy" is pointing a finger at your temple, and turning it in a small circle a few times. I found one blogger who wrote, while this is rather benign in the U.S., it's regarded as highly offensive in some parts of Europe.

We express the meaning of that gesture by using terms like "you're crazy," "you're nuts," or even "you're loco," borrowing from the Spanish. "You're cuckoo" is also well-known (I guess a lot of cultures associate birds of some sort with a loss of sanity or judgement). The idiom "bats in the belfry" is well-understood, but not all that commonly heard; a few more popular idioms include, "has lost a few marbles," and "has a few loose screws;" I think the latter might be more likely to be applied to a single rash act (such as passing recklessly on the highway).

In the U.S., to "flip the bird" is to point your hand at someone with a raised middle finger. You might do this when they pass you unsafely on a roadway, but it hardly means "you're crazy!" (actually, it means "*F**** you!"). That gesture is considered vulgar and offensive; I'm don't know if someone would or could be prosecuted on the roadway, but it evidently does violate obscenity laws when broadcast on television.

  • 2
    I've never seen someone flip the bird by pointing their middle finder at someone... Usually they make a fist rotated such that the back of the hand faces the individual they're targeting, and extend their middle finger so that it points toward the sky. Is this a regional variation? – user867 Jul 19 '13 at 6:55
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    @user867: I see what you're getting at... No – as you say, the finger points upward, not at the recipient. You've described "flipping the bird" better than I originally did; I've edited my answer in hopes of describing the gesture more accurately. Thanks. – J.R. Jul 19 '13 at 10:11
  • Sometimes the word "batty" is used as a shortened version of "bats in the belfry". It is more common than the latter phrase, but it is probably less common then some of the other expressions here. It is used as an adjective modifying the subject, for example: "Sherri's pretty batty; she left her paperwork on top of the car when she drove off." It probably would not be used for someone driving crazily though. – called2voyage Jul 25 '13 at 20:14

The corresponding gesture in the English-speaking regions is pointing a finger at the temple while turning the closed palm: Screw loose!

It suggests that a screw (a threaded nail) seems to have come loose in the person's head and tells him to tighten it thus: by turning it clockwise!

  • 2
    This gesture makes a lot more sense now, thanks. The same gesture means 'thinking' in China and Korea. – Kris Quigley May 18 '12 at 18:23
  • Haha, thanks Kris, I'll now know not to be offended when a Chinese person does this. – Aditya M P Jul 20 '13 at 7:08

You'll have to excuse my friend; he:

  1. is not playing with a full deck
  2. has lost his marbles
  3. is a few apples short of a bushel
  • 1 and 3 mean he's 'not all there' which is more about lack of intelligence than craziness. – Mitch Jul 19 '13 at 11:05
  • @Mitch: True, good point. – CSJ Jul 19 '13 at 11:15

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