Have you ever been sitting at the kitchen table doing your homework while your mom or dad frantically searches through the cabinets for something? At first, it may be amusing, but soon the clanging of the pots and pans distracts you from your homework.

You finally ask what he or she is looking for, and you’re amazed when they say what it is. Why? Because it’s been sitting on the counter the whole time in plain sight! When you point this out, your mom or dad exclaims, “I must be losing my marbles!”

Of course, this phrase is just as puzzling as searching for something that was sitting in plain sight. What does it mean? Did you even realize your parents had marbles?

Losing your marbles doesn’t mean you actually had marbles that you can now no longer find. Instead, it’s an idiom. That’s a phrase whose meaning doesn’t match up with the meaning of the actual words used in the phrase.

If you say you’re losing your marbles, you’re claiming that you’re going crazy or losing your mind. The exact origin of this phrase is unclear. What we do know, though, is that it’s been around a long time.

Experts believe losing one’s marbles originated in the United States in the late 1800s. Marbles — those little glass or metal balls children use to play a variety of games — were popular toys long ago. The word “marbles,” though, was also used to refer to one’s personal belongings or “stuff.”

Some people believe “marbles” eventually came to be associated with one’s mind or wits or common sense, too. Since marbles were important playthings and one’s personal belongings or “stuff” would also be very important, one can see how one’s mind or wits or common sense could be associated with these other important things.

One can imagine a young child playing with his favorite marbles around the turn of the 20th century. Marbles could be carried easily in pockets, so he could take the game with him wherever he went. If he were to lose one or more of these prized possessions, he would certainly feel a sense of loss and likely a sense of anger or despair. He might even appear crazy as he searched frantically for the missing marbles.

When losing one’s marbles first became a phrase, it was often used in two ways. Sometimes it was used to mean one was angry. At other times, it was used to mean one was going crazy. Both of these uses match up with the image of a young child losing a precious plaything. Over time, the meaning of losing one’s mind eventually won out.

 

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  1. Well, at least today’s wonder of the day is about losing stuff. I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about love.

    This is the last comment I am putting on Wonderopolis.

    Goodbye, Wonderopolis!

    TJ

    • Hi, TJ! We really hope that wasn’t the last comment you are leaving for us…we REALLY appreciate hearing from you and knowing that you like hanging out in Wonderopolis! We’re super glad you loved today’s Wonder, too! :-)

  2. Dear wonderopolis, this is interesting. I have lost marbles before, now I cannot find them. My friend Kadee agreed, too. I go on this website every day. I wonder what tomorrow’s wonder is. I loved the video!!!!!

    • We hope you find your marbles soon, Kaitlyn! We hope Kadee finds hers, too! Thank you for letting us know that you visit Wonderopolis every day…we think that ROCKS! :-)

  3. Thanks for the wonder today. We took it one step further and googled how to play marbles. We watched a youtube video that taught us how to play and the we had a blast playing marbles.

    • WOW! We’re super proud of you all for WONDERing even more about marbles, Mrs. Smith’s Grade 2,3 class! Way to go! Thanks for being AWESOME Wonder Friends and sharing your experience with us all today! :-)

    • Hello, Phanoola! We search high and low for the best videos to go along with each Wonder of the Day®. The video is an important part of each Wonder, because it helps our Wonder Friends “see” something that relates to that Wonder. We think the video for today’s Wonder ROCKS, and we hope you do, too! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you thought about the music for today’s Wonder video, Mr. P. and Miss Shoemaker’s 4th graders! We think the video was AWESOME! We’re so glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Marbles sure are fun to play with, we agree, Christopher! We also think you’re a GREAT Wonder Friend for leaving us this AWESOME comment today! :-)

    • We’re sorry your dinosaur got broken and caused you to lose your marbles, Jonathan! Thank you for leaving us this GREAT comment today! :-)

  4. Dear Wondeopolis,
    First of all, I loved the article. I did not Know what “I’m losing my marbles” meant, thanks. Now I am wondering about tomorrow’s wonder of the day.
    Sincerely, Rylie

    • We really appreciate you letting us know how much you enjoyed exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®, Rylie! We’re glad you learned something new! :-)

  5. Hi, wonderopolis. I love today’s wonder of the day. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is gonna be about someone you love or who your secret admirer is, and today’s my birthday. Ha,ha gooooooodbye wonderoplis by crazygurl

    • HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY birthday to YOU, Crazy Gurl! We’re so glad you chose to spend part of your special day in Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Do you know what, Molly? We can’t wait to see tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®, either! It’s SO MUCH FUN to learn new things each day in Wonderopolis! :-)

    • We think you’re pretty lucky for not having lost any of your marbles, Brian! Thanks so much for hanging out in Wonderopolis today and leaving us this comment to let us know you were here! :-)

  6. Hi! I loved today’s wonder because I lose my marbles all the time. :) Today’s wonder was really colorful, I really love all the different links to go and look at the different marbles!!!! THANKS.

    • We think it’s AWESOME that you enjoyed today’s Wonder and loved looking at all the different marbles, Madalynn! You’re a SUPER Wonder Friend for sharing that with us! :-)

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Creative wonder! When someone says they “lost their marbles,” it is just an expression. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • Happy Friday, Paige! We hope you have the most WONDERful weekend ever! Thanks for leaving us some REALLY GREAT comments this week! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with marbles, Ashlyn! They can be fun to play with, but we don’t like the feeling we have when we “lose our marbles!” :-)

    • Those are GREAT questions, Wonder Friend! Marbles are made from hot, molten glass. The glass is shaped while it’s still super, super, SUPER hot and the marble artist can add other colors and items inside the marble with special tools to make it more visually interesting! :-)

      To make the smiley face, you type a colon and an ending parenthesis. : + ) = :)

    • We hope you don’t lose all of them, Bananas! Sometimes when we are about to “lose our marbles,” we like to step back, take a deep breath, and smile! That helps us, and we hope it will help you, too! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

  8. As a matter of fact, me and my family lose them like crazy we used to have 50 but now we have only 2 ***craziness***

    • Thanks so much for sharing your family’s personal connection to this Wonder about MARBLES, Kaylee! We hope you guys find some of the lost ones! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your personal connection to this MARBLE Wonder, Christina! We hope you and your siblings find a way to help each other keep from losing your marbles from now on! :-)

  9. Hey Wonderopolis! That is such a great topic! How do you come up with these things? :) My grandma loses her marbles all the time. Like once she was staring right at something, then a couple minutes later she is searching EVERYWHERE for it! It can be pretty funny some times!

    Can you give me more really interesting topics like this one?? I love your website and I am on it constantly!!

    (PS I really like to play with marbles!! I mess around with them all the time. Then I loose them (literally) and find them again!!) hehe :) :) :)

    • We’re so glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day®, Macey! Thanks for sharing your personal connection to marbles (and losing them!)! :-)

  10. I have never lost my marbles. Besides, I don’t play with marbles that often.

    However, my brother Max has lost his marbles many times.

    TJ

    • Thanks so much for sharing about you and your brother today, TJ! We appreciate you letting us know that you have never lost your marbles! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Have you ever lost your marbles?
  • What is an idiom?
  • When and where did the phrase “lose your marbles” originate?

Wonder Gallery

glass balls_shutterstock_47214661Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to lose your marbles? Grab some friends or family members and have some crazy fun playing marbles. If you don’t have marbles, you can usually buy them at many department or discount stores.

Need to know How to Play Marbles? Just jump online to watch an instructional video and read step-by-step directions for how to play ringer and several other variations of marble games.

If you’re interested in starting a marble collection, you’ll have fun browsing through pictures of all sorts of different kinds of marbles online:

 

Still Wondering

Use Science NetLinks’ fun Marble Mania interactive to introduce your children to the concepts of probability and chance.

 

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