Simanaitis Says

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ON BEING BAMBOOZLED

WHAT A funny word “bamboozle” is. At first glance, it reminds me of that rude noisemaker blown at World Cup matches. (No, that’s the vuvuzela. On the other hand, if a bamboozler needs a sound effect….)

In fact, bamboozle’s etymology goes way back, and the word has remained remarkably consistent in meaning over the years.

Merriam-Webster says that to bamboozle is “to deceive by underhanded methods: to dupe, hoodwink… to confuse, frustrate, or throw off thoroughly or completely.”

Ah, I see. As in “We the American People are being regularly bamboozled by members of the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration.” It’s certainly a more G-Rated word than the one that initially comes to mind.

Merriam-Webster says bamboozle first appeared in English in 1703, with its origin unknown. It cites Jonathan Swift writing in 1710 about “the continual Corruption of our English Tongue” in which he complained about “the Choice of certain Words invented by some pretty Fellows.” To Swift, bamboozle was one of those words with suspected ties to the criminal classes. Others he found offensive included “sham” and “to bully.”

Who says etymology is a musty old ology? As they say, “It’s as timely as today’s headlines.” See also buffoon, bully pulpit, chaos, comparative mendacity, deception, demagogue, hypocrisy, idiot, mendacity, and witch hunt.

Eric Partridge adds another bamboozlement nuance in A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms, and Catch-Phrases, Solecisms and Catachreses, Nicknames, and Vulgarisms: In late 18th- to mid-19th century naval slang, “it meant to deceive an enemy by hoisting false colours.”

With due diligence bamboozlewise, I also consulted the trusty Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (2 Volume Set), Oxford University, 1971.

The OED’s definition of bamboozle is “to deceive by trickery, hoax, cozen, impose upon.” (Cozen? Another word for another day.) An OED reference from 1712: “Fellows, they call banterers and bamboozlers, that play such tricks.” (Banterer? So many words; so little time.)

The OED also cites Saturday Review, February 16, 1861, writing, “Government by bamboozle always presents considerable advantages at first sight.”

Many today in Washington, D.C., would likely agree. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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