I read an an excerpt from Kevin Drum in Mother Jones that talks about Ron Paul (to non-Americans, he is running for the Republican candidate) being the dictionary definition of the word crank: "a person who has a single obsessive, all encompassing idea for how the world should work and is utterly blinded to the value of any competing ideas." I decided Kevin was just using "crank" as an ill-tempered person (the real definition), and went on reading. In another article, however, by Ross Douthat in the NY Times, again Ron Paul was described as a "crank" for pretty much the same thing.
So, now my literalism is rearing its ugly head...that is, is there something to this definition of "crank?" Is that just a coincidence? One of them, for example, could have used "grouch" or "crab." Why did both unrelated writers use "crank?" I did find other articles in Google that describe him as a "crank." Of course, they all may have followed some early writer on this. What do you think?
Onelook gives several definitions of crank, which include both yours and his. His seems to be a mainly British informal word, meaning "someone whose ideas you think are strange". Perhaps the British meaning is catching on over there? We don't really use the US meaning.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
5.colloq. (orig. U.S.). A person with a mental twist; one who is apt to take up eccentric notions or impracticable projects; esp. one who is enthusiastically possessed by a particular crotchet or hobby; an eccentric, a monomaniac. [This is probably a back-formation < cranky adj.1 4] Also attrib. and Comb.
1833 in J. P. Dunn Indiana (1919) II. 1124 Uncle Sam's ‘Old Mother Bank’ Is managed by a foreign crank.
1881 Times 22 Dec. 3/4 Guiteau continued, ‘You have got a lot of stuff there. It is not in your handwriting. I guess it must have been contributed by some crank.’
1882 Pall Mall Gaz. 14 Jan. 4/1 Persons whom the Americans since Guiteau's trial have begun to designate as ‘cranks’—that is to say, persons of disordered mind, in whom the itch of notoriety supplies the lack of any higher ambition.
1889 Longman's Mag. May 28 It is the brightness of enthusiasm. Every crank has such eyes.
1889 G. B. Shaw London Music 1888–89 (1937) 264, I moved amidst cranks, Bohemians, unbelievers, agitators, and‥ riff-raff of all sorts.
1906 Nature 8 Nov. 25/2 A crank is defined as a man who cannot be turned. These men are all cranks.
1924 G. B. Stern Tents of Israel vii. 97 Danny remained at his crank school in Hampstead . 1934 D. Thomas Let. Jan. (1987) 40 Don't think I'm regaling you with some crank-ridden, pornographic notion.
1934 H. G. Wells Exper. Autobiogr. I. v. 261 The normal Fabian gathering had a real horror of the ‘currency Crank’, as it termed anyone who ventured to say that money has ways and tricks of its own . 1949 A. Koestler Promise & Fulfilm. ii. v. 274 More crank visitors. Among them a German who cures diseases by soul-waves and mana.
1961 M. Spark Prime of Miss Jean Brodie i. 7 It has been suggested again that I should apply for a post at one of the progressive schools.‥ But I shall not apply for a post at a crank school.
1968 D. Hopkinson Incense-tree iii. 29 As I went to a crank school, it followed that some of the parents of my friends should be cranks.
In the USA we use the adjectival form, "cranky," but seldom the noun in the UK meaning. I think of "crank" as "lunatic" or "crackpot." Mostly when I see the word I think of a mechanical device, but context reassigns my thinking in this case.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
I don't, but both you and Proof seem to think of it like the British (and those authors) do. And there is "crank" call, as Geoff says. Therefore, I think, all along, I have used the word "crank" wrong. I've thought of it as some who is a "crab" or "ill-tempered."
I decided Kevin was just using "crank" as an ill-tempered person (the real definition), and went on reading.
"Real" definition? I'd thought we'd worked past single, signal meanings for words.
I, too, use crank mainly to mean 'crackpot, crazy obsessed person'. I think it's more a science / Internet usage than a regionalism: i.e., US vs British English. There used to be a FAQ about Internet cranks (link) which I read once.