Go Haywire – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idioms are fun words and phrases that you can use to help illustrate and detail your speech and writing in a figurative manner. Although most idioms have a literal origin, their figurative use provides analogy and interest.

Idioms can be confusing to English language learners, however, due to the literal translation making no sense. Understanding the origins and use of these words and phrases can help anyone unfamiliar use them correctly.

Going haywire is a perfect example of a confusing idiom. Let’s learn about this term and how to use it correctly in speech and writing.

What Does It Mean to Go Haywire?

Go Haywire Idiom Origin Meaning

To go haywire means to be out of control, go crazy, or otherwise not be in your right mind.

The idiom to go haywire is an allusion to the wire used in baling hay, known as haywire or baling wire. If the baler doesn’t work properly or the baling wire snaps while in the process of baling, it will tangle into a hopeless mess, and you will lose the hay being baled in the process.

Therefore, when somebody says something has gone haywire, they are inferring things have turned into a mess, plans have gone sideways, or something has gotten out of control.

Using Go Haywire in a Sentence

  • There are no specific laws in place concerning which fireworks are allowed in city limits and which are not due to various mortars going haywire in populated areas in past years.
  • This entire day has gone haywire due to the unexpected visitation of the admin to the building, followed by an epic leak in the ceiling due to an overloaded AC unit.
  • The 2017–18 school year was a bizarrely rare year in which each month was marked by some sort of event going haywire: everything from the snake nest being discovered in the gym wall to the river being diverted through the football field happened.

The Origins of the Expression Go Haywire

Go Haywire Ngram
Go haywire usage trend.

A thin gauge wire was introduced to bale hay in the late 19th century, but it was prone to snapping and tangling when too much pressure was put on it. The wire was also good for other things and was often used to hold together equipment when tools were unavailable.

By 1905, the word haywire had taken on an adjectival use to indicate when something was “poorly equipped or makeshift,” indicating that something was being held together with nothing but baling wire. This was an especially popular practice in the lumber camps, and the term hay wire outfit became a nickname for logging outfits that didn’t take the time to properly care for their equipment. Hay wire outfits had a poor reputation marked by high incidences of injury, and the term was used in a contemptuous manner.

The term going haywire was also popularized in the 1940s within the electronic industry to indicate experimental stages of work. In early circuit work, masses of wires were often used—resembling piles of hay.

Let’s Review

The idiom going haywire has its origins in the literal use of baling wire, or a wire used to hold and bale hay for animal feed. When something goes wrong with baling hay, the wire can easily tangle or break, creating a mess to sort out. This type of incident and the practice of using hay wire to temporarily hold together equipment gave rise to the analogy of something going haywire—meaning things had not gone according to plan and were now a mess.