A Murderous Frenzy

To run the race we ran on Sunday, I had to sign up, not only because I’m not a douchebag who poaches people’s hard work for my own selfish ends, but also because the course ran through some stretches of private property whose owners had given special dispensation to the race organizers to use their land. The whole thing was a trail advocacy benefit, and while you know I’m not the most respectful of private property, in this case I ponied up my dollars and registered, no shirt, no medal, thank you very much.

But in these situations, where you’re clearly running up someone’s driveway and across a stretch of their field, it’s hard not to feel like an outlaw, running amok among the sprawling manses of the wealthy. It’s a vibe I like, and as we ran I thought about that phrase, “running amok,” and wondering what the hell it really means.

Not a lot of words come into English from Malay, but amok did:

EtymologyAmok first entered English in the mid-1600s as a noun meaning “murderous frenzy.” In the 16th century, visitors to Southeast Asia first reported on a psychiatric disorder known in Malay as amok. Typically, the afflicted person (usually a Malay man) attacked bystanders in a frenzy, killing everyone in sight until he collapsed or was himself killed. By the 17th century English speakers had adopted both the noun and adverb forms of amok, as well as the phrase run amok, a translation of the Malay verb mengamok. The psychopathological behavior the noun amok refers to is now recognized to occur worldwide in numerous countries and cultures. As for the adverb, time has mitigated its violent nature; nowadays it usually describes the actions of the unruly and not the murderous.

Merriam – Webster

I like that.

Evidently, what my friends and I do IS running amok. We get unruly in the woods, scaring the squirrels and the bird watchers, stomping along like we own the place. We’re there most days. And some days we’re even “killing it,” or so we tell each other.

And apparently, it’s a psychiatric disorder. Makes sense.

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