One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“A novel (1962) by Ken Kesey (1935-2001). The narrator is the Chief, a Native American whose father was the last chief of his tribe. he is a patient in a mental hospital, in which is represented by ‘Big Nurse.’ The admission of McMurphy from prison precipitates a struggle between ‘good’ (the patients,) and ‘evil’ (Big Nurse), with the ‘liberation’ of the patients from institutional restrictions as the stake. The film version (1975), directed by Milos Forman and starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, was an unexpected commercial success.

The term ‘cuckoo’ for an eccentric, fool or madman dates back to the late 16th century, deriving from the expression “a cuckoo in the nest,” denoting an oddity. ‘Cuckoo’s nest’ (along with ‘cuckoo academy’ and ‘cuckoo farm’) arose as a term for a psychiatric institution in the USA in the 1960s; cuckoos notably don’t make their own nests, but lay their eggs in those of other birds. The ‘one flew over’ in the title refers to the final escape of the Chief.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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