Can you please give me a paraphrase to "crazy old thing" in the following excerpt of Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby? Does "old" mean "ancient" and "crazy" and "eccentric" or "senseless"? The Great...

Can you please give me a paraphrase to "crazy old thing" in the following excerpt of Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby?

Does "old" mean "ancient" and "crazy" and "eccentric" or "senseless"?

The Great Gatsby Excerpt

"I like your dress," remarked Mrs. McKee, "I think it's adorable."

Mrs. Wilson rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain.

“It’s just a crazy old thing,” she said. “I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I look like.”

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What you are dealing with in Myrtle's response is both a feigned response of self-deprecation and an idiom. Consequently, the answer to each of your suggestions, "Does 'old' mean 'ancient' and 'crazy' 'eccentric' or 'senseless'?" is no, no, no, no, no. The reason is that your suggests put forth possible literal meanings while Myrtle's expression is figurative on two levels. Let's examine this.

"Self-deprecation" means the act of belittling or undervaluing yourself through excessive modesty (Random House Dictionary). "Feigned" means pretended, disguised, counterfeit; not real; not sincere; not genuine (Random House Dictionary). Thus when I say Myrtle's response was feigned self-deprecation I am saying that she was pretending to belittle her dress and pretending to act like she didn't like or that she didn't value it. This pretense to displeasure with her New York belongings is illustrated by Nick's comment a few paragraphs further on when he says that Myrtle entered the kitchen with an attitude of confidence and pride that made her look like she had a kitchenful of chefs:

she flounced over to the dog, kissed it with ecstasy and swept into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited her orders there.

So what we know so far, is that what she said and whatever it meant, she did not mean it: she was speaking insincerely for the sake making herself seem grander and more elegant than she was. She did this through counterfeit modesty, which is the same thing as secret bragging and boasting.

Now we'll discuss the idiom combined with slang: "just a crazy old thing." "Crazy" is an American slang word that has come to mean many different things. One class of meanings for this slang term has a negative connotation and is synonymous with words like weird or disturbing. In this instance, associated as it is with a dress (not a common way to use "crazy" as a slang word), it has a negative connotation that suggests the dress is despised and only chosen because nothing better was available. The shortened idiom variation "old thing" is in a class of "old" idioms that have the general sense of something that is exceedingly familiar; random in choice; outdated or no longer interesting: old hat, same old thing, any old thing. When spoken sincerely, these idioms can express anything from scorn to boredom to lack of concern. When spoken under a pretense (a fib) of excessive modesty, these idioms turn around and become a boast or brag that now expresses pride, haughtiness, self-aggrandizement (opposite of self-deprecation) and conceit.

PARAPHRASE: "crazy old thing"

  • This?! This adorable?! Huh! It is just a reject taking up space in my closet that I once in a while take out and ware for ease and comfort when there is no one important here, no one that matters so that I don't worry about whether I look good or like a frump!

In this quotation, "thing" is her dress; "crazy" is slang for something laughably unlovely and weired; "old" has the negative meaning of something worthless and undesirable. Together they mean she is wearing a worthless reject dress that she wouldn't be seen in on the public street ... except ... that it is a lovely new New York acquisition that she is showing off and boasting about in a clandestine and insincere manner shamming (pretending) disgust.

Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume ... and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change ... [and] was converted into impressive hauteur.

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The Great Gatsby

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