To be distinguished from carpet munching
Recently, while looking through the usual series of blogs, I spotted one whose author was concerned that his 9-months old son had start biting the carpet in their home. His worry was that the kid was turning into a strange reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. I had no idea how carpet-biting and Hitler could possible be connected, but a little bit of searching with Google provided many weird and wonderful pieces concerned with this strange phenomenon.
Firstly, with regard to Hitler: His rages were widely documented, both in propaganda during the Second World War and in biographies later on. The scholar, William L. Shirer, was the first to mention in English that these rages were reported to have regularly culminated in the Fuhrer's rolling on the floor, biting the carpet. Shirer's book, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, quickly became a classic and so the idea that Hitler was a carpet-biting madman quickly spread.
However, it turns out (or does it?) that the term was translated too literally from the original German term 'Teppichfresser', which is a largely idiomatic term, akin to the English phrase 'climbing the walls' - i.e. extremely angry. Nevertheless, the rumours about Hitler continue, and perhaps the term was indeed intended literally...
The term seems to have gained some currency in general, the idiomatic use having come into the English; though, perhaps as a result of the Hitler associations, it is more often than not used to mean not only anger, but insanity, as well as generally uncontrollable fits of emotion. Hence, the little-seen webspeak acronym ROTFLBTC - sometimes translated as 'rolling on the floor laughing, biting the cat', but more often as 'rolling on the floor laughing, biting the carpet'.
Oddly, many of the uses I found for the term were Australian, suggesting that carpet biting is more in fashion there than elsewhere in the Anglophone world. For example, a piece on electoral candidate behaviour, where candidates tried to align themselves with the electorate, describes the leader of the Labour government, Peter Beattie:
"If the people were angry, he was FURIOUS! If they were furious, he was carpet-biting-mad!"1
Another example is a sports fan's rant on the selection for the Australian Rugby World Cup squad:
"Angry? Carpet-biting mad would be closer to it."2
Perhaps all this may shed light on the behaviour of the people in a song by Echo & The Bunnymen, called Villiers Terrace:
"I've been up to Villiers Terrace
I saw what's a-happening
People rolling 'round on the carpet
Biting wool and pulling string
You said people rolled on carpet
But I never thought they'd do those things"
On a separate note, many people seem to complain about their pets biting their carpets, particularly rabbits, cats and dogs. Suggested reasons for this include frustration and psychic disharmony, but more probably the carpet has some odour which is attracting the animal. Suggested solutions, if you need a solution, include thoroughly cleaning the carpet with an enzyme-based cleaner or, for those who think cleaning is always going to be a waste of time, spraying the carpet with something that smells as foul as possible. This might also be a solution for that blogger with the demonic baby. Or it might just lose him all the friends he has left...
1Jessica Evans, POLiSOC, date unknown, http://www.arts.unsw.edu.au/polisoc/editorials/ electionlanguage.html
2Peter Fitzsimmons, Sidney Morning Herald, December 12, 2002. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/11/1039379884716.html
This explains the Hitler usage:
The Offical Echo & The Bunnymen website: