Opinion

Bamboozled by the origins of this word

Damon Wayans in a scene from the movie Bamboozled.
Damon Wayans in a scene from the movie Bamboozled.

A FEW years ago a film was made called Bamboozled.

I didn't see it and I don't think it was much of a film (please don't write in and tell me you enjoyed it) but it had a huge cast of leading characters. In some countries it was called It's Showtime. It was also called The Very Black Show in France.

The word bamboozle was from my younger days and I always thought it was a cant word (in other words, a word you don't want to know). You would be surprised at the words that I always believed were made up until I later discovered they were in the dictionaries. By the time I discovered that it was too late to use them.

(Somebody mentioned dictionaries and asked me if all dictionaries used the same definitions. They don't, but many people believe they should).

Bamboozle goes back at least 300 years.

The first use in print that I could discover was in 1703, when dramatist Colly Cibber said sham proofs were intended to bamboozle him.

You probably have used bamboozle yourself.

My Macquarie says it means to deceive by trickery or impose upon. Then it says to mystify or deceive. It says the word is of cant origin. Heinemann says basically the same thing. It gives an example: "I was completely bamboozled by the time he finished explaining it to me".

Collins says it is an informal word that is intended to gain some advantage. It gives an example: "The sermons were intended to bamboozle the workers into obedience".

Webster says the origins are uncertain but the meaning is intended to hoax.

Then we come to Samuel Johnson, whose first real dictionary was thrust upon the public in 1755.

He says bamboozle was a cant word not used in grave writings. But it still meant to deceive or confound. A bamboozler was a cheat.

(I came across a word from Kate Burridge. A bootylicious woman was a woman with an attractive rear. It has nothing to do with bamboozle, but I just had to mention it. I have never used it.) Kate Burridge in her book does say bamboozle is highly respectable today.

John Ayto says bamboozle is a mystery word that first appeared in print in 1703.

My big dictionary says it was mentioned in the Tatler in the context of "the continued corruption of the English tongue".

He suggests it might be of Scottish origin.

My big dictionary says bamboozle first appeared in print in 1703.

It mentioned that government by bamboozle always presented considerable advantages at first sight. I know the feeling.

The word bamboozle has given us some other words, Such as bamboozled, bamboozler, bamboozlement and bamboozling, It gives an example of bamboozling with the comment "all the good language was lost upon him".

But you can also get bamboozler jelly beans or bamboozler friends.

Of course, if you do not know the answer to a question, you can always try to bamboozle the questioner. I have tried that a few times. Sometimes it works; mostly it doesn't.

Topics:  dictionary


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