The next several months we citizens will be subjected to being “bamboozled” by thousands of stump speeches and political commercials on television. Yes, it’s election time in the United States again. We voters will be “bamboozled” by much “gobbledygook” from the many politicians seeking your vote for a political office.
“Bamboozled” is an interesting word. The earliest meaning of bamboozle was “to deceive by trickery, hoodwink, or to take in by elaborate methods of deceit”. This is why many believe that it arose among the criminals of the underworld.
“Bamboozled” is one of those words that has been confounding etymologists for centuries. No one knows for sure about its origin. One thing that we do know is that it was originally considered “low language”, at least among such defenders of the language as British satirist Jonathan Swift, who hoped that it would quickly fade from the English language.
One unlikely theory has it that bamboozle comes from “Bombazine”, a kind of fabric that when dyed black was used to be worn for mourning. One can only imagine black-bombazine-wearing widows in the late 17th century bilking young gentlemen out of their purses.
By around 1712, the word had acquired the sense “to perplex or mystify”. This idea may have emerged under the influence of the Scottish word “bombaze”, which means “to confuse”, similar in both sound and meaning. Given the befuddling qualities of alcohol, it’s not too surprising that in the 1800s, bamboozle showed up on college campuses as a slang term for “drunk”.
Efforts have been made to connect the word to the French word “embabouiner” which means “to make a fool of”. Of course, the word could just as easily been invented by someone to fit a momentary need and then went on to gain popular usage. A good example of that is the word “gobbledygook” which was coined in 1944 by U. S. Representative Maury Maverick who was the grandson of Sam Maverick. Sam had a habit of not branding his cattle which gave the name “maverick” the meaning of “independent”. Representative Maverick, overseeing factory production during WWII, described the doubletalk and jargon he was encountering from government officials as “gobbledygook”. The word was an instant hit. He later explained that “gobbledygook” was his attempt to imitate the sound a turkey makes. But, in one inspired moment he gave us the perfect word for the sound that a bureaucracy makes.
So, far from slinking into obscurity, the word bamboozle today has left its roots behind and found a secure place in the lexicon of our English language. Its very longevity stands as a reminder that you can’t predict or enforce the fate of a word.
So, during this election cycle just beware of being “bamboozled” by the “gobbledygook” of the many politicians who will promise you anything just to get elected, then do as they please thereafter.
Remember what Mark Twain said – “The best day for people of any age to trick and be tricked is April Fool’s Day, when we celebrate being bamboozled by harmless hoaxes. April 1st is the day on which we are reminded what we are on the other 364 days.”