Learn English – Is the word “borderline lunacy” a ‘stand-alone’ phrase or just an accidental combination of ‘borderline’ and ‘lunacy’


I saw the word borderline lunacy in the scathing comment of a Republican strategist on Mitt Romney’s statement en route to London, Israel and Poland in Washington Post’s (7/31) article titled “Does Mitt Romney’s bad tip matter.”

“I find this entire trip borderline lunacy,” said one senior Republican strategist. “Why on earth is he seeking to improve his foreign policy cred when there will not be a single vote cast on that subject?”

I assume borderline lunacy simply means “crazy” or “almost insane,” and I was able to find many examples of usage of this word in Google, e.g.:

I understand that many may interpret this as borderline lunacy to suggest the fall of such an important and successful tech company. —connectedmonster.com

Nicolas Cage is on manic form as a degenerate New Orleans cop whose back injury leads him into a spiral of drug dependency and borderline lunacy. —skymovies.sky.com

However, this word is not registered in any of Oxford, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster Dictionary, nor is there entry in Ngram.

Is the term borderline lunacy a psychiatrist’s terminology? Or is it acknowledged as a popular “stand-alone” phrase, or just an accidental combination of borderline and lunacy, like a “borderline dirty joke”?

I’m tempted to use this word to some of right-wing Japanese politicians once.

Best Answer

I agree that the strategist may have deliberately softened his claim by using the word borderline. Such a qualifier – meaning almost – avoids the implication that Romney is a true lunatic.

However, the speaker may also have been making a rather clever pun. In addition to its function as a softener, "borderline lunacy" is especially fitting, given that the topic at hand was a trip across international borders.

Either the strategist was very deliberate in choosing his words, coming up with a pun that borders on brilliant, on else he lucked into it through sheer coincidence. If asked for my opinion, I'd vote for the former.