‘Off His Rocker’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on April 24, 2023

Did you hear someone say the phrase 'off his rocker,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

'Off his rocker,' in short, is:

  • A slang phrase that is used to describe someone as crazy or insane.

What Does 'Off His Rocker' Mean?

‘Off his rocker’ is a slang phrase that means someone is insane or crazy.

In this phrase, ‘his’ is a possessive pronoun. You can change the possessive pronoun in order to fit the situation. For example, you could say any of the following depending on the circumstance:

  • Off my rocker
  • Off your rocker
  • Off her rocker
  • Off their rocker

When referring to a group, it’s common to use the singular form of ‘rocker,’ as in they’re off their rocker.” However, the plural can also be used, as in “they’re off their rockers.”

Where Does 'Off His Rocker' Come From?

There are a number of different theories regarding the origin of ‘off his rocker’ as a phrase.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is an image of an old man falling out of a rocking chair, which seems to fit nicely with the implied meaning of being crazy or insane.
  • Beyond that, there is a theory that an improperly working rocking chair would act in an unusual and strange way, so the analogy is implied that a person who is thinking strangely behaves like a rocking chair that isn’t working properly.

However, there are other ideas about its origin as well. Another compelling theory is that electric trolleys would be held on their track by long metal strips known as “rockers.” If the trolley went off the track, it could be said to have been ‘off its rocker,’ indicating that it isn’t operating as it should be.

According to one source, the phrase ‘off one’s rocker’ was a commonly used saying around the late 1800s.

‘Off His Rocker’ in Print

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'off his rocker' started becoming more common in publications in the early 1900s. When comparing the various possessive pronouns that can be used in this phrase, it appears that ‘off his rocker’ is the most common form used, followed by ‘off her rocker,’ ‘off my rocker,’ and ‘off your rocker.’

One early example of ‘off his rocker’ in print can be found in Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts from 1915:

“We all thought Callaghan had gone off his rocker, but it wasn’t so. He’d sat there in the rain and darkness wondering what had happened to the men on the other side, and watching the searchlight glaring on the ruined bridge, when suddenly it was withdrawn, and then a moment later began to shine again in quick, stabbling flashes, some short, some long, and it struck Callaghan that it was remarkably like Morse Code.”

An even earlier example can be found in Harold Begbie’s 1907 publication The Vigil:

Think of him, Captain Stringer, having to sit still and listen to the arguments of other men! Why, it’ll madden the old crow. He’ll go off his rocker. I shouldn’t be surprised if the judge don’t have to commit him for contempt o’ court.”

We find the phrase ‘off her rocker in a 1907 piece in The Strand Magazine:

“In spite of her humour and her mischief, and her love of gin, there was goodness of heart in Mother Moul. Poor Lizer Durkin might be off her rocker on the subject of the Countess, but the visitor was out to do her a good turn.”

Finally, here’s one last example of the phrase ‘off my rocker’ found in a June 1951 issue of Life magazine:

“Last November I really went off my rocker. Lured by my enthusiasm for folding money I acted as mistress of ceremonies for NBC’s “The Big Show,” an hour and a half radio show which permitted me to exchange insults and innuendo with the likes of Fred Allen, Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx, Jose Ferrer, Bob Hope, Ethel Merman, Charles Boyer.”

Examples of 'Off His Rocker' In Sentences

How would 'off his rocker' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I’ve been dying to meet him my entire life– he’s my favorite actor. Someone told me he’s totally off his rocker, but that doesn’t dissuade me in the least.”
  • “She was starting to wonder whether her mother was off her rocker or if she was just becoming increasingly eccentric with age.”
  • “I want to help him, but these days it seems like he’s completely off his rocker. I think he needs professional help.”
  • “There was a man walking buck naked down the middle of Main Street the other day. I thought I was completely off my rocker for a minute, but Jimmy confirmed that he saw the same thing!”
  • “I know you think I’m off my rocker, but I’ve always dreamed of living on a sailboat. I don’t think it’s that crazy– can you imagine getting to watch the sunrise over the ocean every morning?”
  • “John thinks he found an ancient artifact but I’m pretty sure it’s just a slightly old piece of trash. I swear, sometimes I think he’s gone completely off his rocker.”

Other Ways to Say 'Off His Rocker'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'off his rocker'?

Here are some options:

  • Nuts
  • Mad
  • Insane
  • Crazy
  • Bizarre
  • Absurd
  • Fly off the handle
  • Go off the deep end
  • Pop one’s cork
  • Lose it
  • Go bananas
  • Go mental
  • Freak out
  • Go bonkers
  • Blow one’s top

Final Thoughts About 'Off His Rocker'

‘Off his rocker’ is a phrase used to describe someone that is insane or crazy. The possessive pronoun can be changed to fit the situation, such as ‘off her rocker,’ ‘off your rocker,’ or ‘off my rocker.’

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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