A Confession

James Meek writes:

What are we saying when we say someone has ‘gone out of their mind’? The thing about going out of your mind is that the mind is still there; you can go back. You haven’t lost your mind. You’ve just gone out of it. The Russians use the same phrase. The Russian adjective meaning ‘crazy’, which is the same as the noun for ‘insane person’, is sumasshedshy, literally ‘who was going out of their mind’. Sofia Andreyevna Tolstoy, wife of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, did go out of her mind at the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana in 1910. She didn’t lose her mind. She went back to it later, and lived another nine years. But she did lose her husband, who ran away from her and died of pneumonia in a rural stationmaster’s house a few days later.

(LRB 22 July 2010)