Nutsy Fagin

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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by bigfish » Sat Dec 18, 2010 4:42 am

I believe that I have the answer for you. Here is my story. Whenever I did something really off the wall as a kid, back in the 1930s, my mother would look at me in exasperation and say "nutsy fagan!" I naturally assumed this was a Yiddish term because my parents often used Yiddish, especially when they wanted to use some sort of put-down, like "Schlemiel."
In the context of these expletives, I translated "nutsy fagan" as best I could & assumed that it meant something like "crazy head." Ever since, I have used it myself in that fashion, probably dropping it on my own sons when noting their antics when they were kids.

It was left that way until about a year ago, when I was listening to sports commentator Frank DeFord being interviewed on NPR. one Saturday. He was talking about something that the NFL had done that he considered particularly crazy and he blurted out "nutsy fagan"! The interviewer asked what that meant. DeFord explained 'when I was a kid in Manhattan, (NY) in the 1920s there was this crazy guy who would get all dressed in outrageous clothes and follow funerals, playing instruments and being generally disruptive. We kids called him ""Nutsy Fagan." You could have knocked me over with a feather!

It all fit together. My parents lived in New York at that time. They must have known about "Nutsy Fagan." Mystery solved.
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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Dec 18, 2010 6:00 am

Actually, Frank Deford is not as categorical about the origin of the term as you suggest. In one of his Sports Illustrated columns he writes:

"Did you ever talk about Nutsy Fagan around your neighborhood? When somebody acted, well, nutsy, we said, "He's as nutsy as Nutsy Fagan!" There's some question who exactly this Nutsy Fagan was. He might have been a guy in 19th-century New York, who liked to join funeral processions under the impression they were parades. And, of course, we weren't so considerate then. A guy was fat -- we called him "fats;" a guy was nutsy -- hey, we called him "nutsy."

The NPR story you refer to is dated 2008-04-30 (a Wednesday), and is almost word-for-word identical with the Sports Illustrated article of the same date. (I guess Deford doesn't like good material to go to waste.)

Anyway, it is apparent from what Deford said or wrote that he was only speculating as to the identity of Nutsy Fagan, and had no first-hand knowledge of, or acquaintanceship with, anyone of that name.

Incidentally, while researching this topic I ran across an amusing story by Steve Waid, then a young journalist at the Martinsville Bulletin (Virginia). In his anecdote he describes how he sparked off the invention of a persona for Nutsy Fagan as a NASCAR driver in the late 1950s or early 60s (or so I infer from the [presumably humorous] reference to racing Ford Edsels).
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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jan 15, 2011 10:05 pm

A guy played in mud, they called him Gummo.
A guy played with fire, they called him Zeppo.
A guy played the field, they called him Chico.
A guy played the curmudgeon, they called him Groucho.
It's a good job Adolph didn't play the piccolo.
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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jan 15, 2011 11:27 pm

One day, we will look back on this and laugh.
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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Jan 16, 2011 12:39 am

I look forward to it.
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Re: Nutsy Fagin

Post by bigfish » Thu Jan 20, 2011 10:33 pm

Dear Erik: Thank you for your clarifications on "Nutsy Fagin." I relied mostly on memory (& because mine comes from the Pleistocene, it is a bit foggy), while you took a more scholarly approach. Perhaps we should institute a nationwide campaign to put "Nutsy Fagin." into the general lexicon.

That NASCAR thing sounded like fun. Many years ago, at a time when the world was not at the finger tips of every Googler, a sports stringer invented a college basketball team & dutifully sent in its scores into news bureaus several times a week. I do not remember its name or those of its purely fictional opponents, but it went something like the following: Oshkosh State Teachers College 83 - Rimeni Tech 39. The ruse continued like that for most of the season until some basketball reporters notice that OSTC was undefeated and was destroying most of its opponents. They wrote that it should be invited to the small college tournament. He had made it too popular and the jig was up when they could not find any of the colleges involved. Does anyone know about this episode?
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