Bamboozle – Word of the Week from Fritinancy – Criminal Antecedents?
In 1710, Irish author Jonathan Swift wrote an article on “the continual Corruption of our English Tongue”
Like last week’s word, stooge, bamboozle – to fool or cheat someone – is not quite what it appears to be. It has nothing to do with booze, whose origin is a Middle Dutch word meaning “to drink a lot.” Nor is it one of those flavorful19th-century American slang words connoting fraud, like hornswoggle,humbug, and bunkum.
Bamboozle first appeared in England around 1700; the OED says it may have been a thieves’ cant word like fake and phony. Or it may come from a Scots word, bombaze, which is related to bombast and means “perplex.” Or – says the Online Etymology Dictionary – it may be related to the French wordembabouiner: to make a fool (literally ‘baboon’) of.”
What we know for sure is that in the first decade of the 18th century, bamboozlewas being deplored as one of those newfangled words the English language would be better off without. The Merriam-Webster entry for bamboozleincludes this note:
In 1710, Irish author Jonathan Swift wrote an article on “the continual Corruption of our English Tongue” in which he complained of “the Choice of certain Words invented by some pretty Fellows.” Among the inventions Swift disliked were bamboozle, bubble (a dupe), put (a fool), and sham. (Perhaps he objected to the use of sham as a verb; he himself had used the adjective meaning “false” a couple of years previously.) What all these words appear to have in common is a connection to the underworld as jargon of criminals. Other than that, the origin of bamboozle remains a mystery, but the over-300-year-old word has clearly defied Swift’s assertion that “All new affected Modes of Speech . . . are the first perishing Parts in any Language.”
Indeed, bamboozle and its adjectival form, bamboozled, have proved remarkably hardy and versatile.
Bamboozled was director Spike Lee’s 2000 satire about a televised minstrel show featuring African American actors in blackface. The title comes from a speech by Malcolm X: “I say and I say it again: You been had! You been took! You been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”
Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992), also directed by Spike Lee.
“Bamboozled” is the name of the consumer-affairs column published by New Jersey Advance Media (NJ.com).
Bamboozle is often seen in association with salesmen and performers, so it’s not surprising that this word – like vainglorious – has attached itself, again and again, to the current occupant of the White House and Mar-a-Lago.
Here’s Newsweek on March 4, 2017:
The mainstream media’s ability to bootstrap itself back into the good graces of Trump supporters in Middle America is limited. It will take other influencers—venerated CEOs, religious leaders, celebrities, local and state level officials and Republican leaders to resist Trump’s effort to bamboozle Americans into mistrusting the most professional and careful sources of public information that exist.
The Week on January 3: