Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stymie, bamboozle & stump

Stymie, bamboozle & stump

I know. This week’s post title sounds like a law firm consisting of difficult partners.

I started out thinking it would be fun to look into the etymologies of words meaning to get in the way, & I was surprised to learn that about half the words meaning to bamboozle were, by definition, bamboozling. It’s wonderfully ironic that so many of these words’ histories have stymied etymologists.

Stymie first appeared in English in 1857. Today it means to thwart, hinder, or get in the way, though its original meaning (as a noun) was specific to the game of golf – the condition in which the opponent’s ball blocks the hole. Most sources list its origins as unknown, though some etymologists posit Scottish roots from the Scottish word stymie, meaning a person who sees poorly. Though logic would suggest it might be related to the sort of sty one might get in one’s eye, no such connection seems to exist.

Who would have thought that stump was originally a verb? In the 1200s, stump meant to stumble over an obstacle. Not until the 1400s did stump refer to the part of a tree left in the ground after felling. In the 1800s stump added two verb meanings, to go about making political speeches, & to baffle or bring to a halt.

To hinder is to obstruct, harm, interfere with or get in the way of. Hinder first showed up in English in the 1300s as a noun meaning situated in the rear of. It appears to have come through Old English from Germanic sources. Its verb form followed within the century, meaning to delay or put back. One of its notable yet now-gone siblings was the word hinderling, a person fallen from social respectability, a wretch.

Though the English word veto clearly comes from the Latin, meaning I forbid, the Latin word’s origin is unknown. Our modern word veto means to forbid, prohibit, oppose, or hinder.

The word thwart started out in English as an adverb in the 1200s, meaning across. It came through Old Norse from terkw-, Proto-Indo-European for to twist. After a century or so, thwart picked up the meaning to oppose or hinder, & it has held onto that meaning ever since.

Bamboozle’s roots are – what a surprise – bamboozling. It first showed up in English in 1703, meaning to con, hoodwink or make a fool of. Bamboozle may have come from the Scottish word bombaze, to perplex. It may have its roots in French through the word embabouiner, which means to make a baboon of. Nobody knows for sure. Rest assured, though, hard-working etymologists are working night and day to verify the origin of bamboozle.

And from the Shameless Self-promotion Department:
Sunday, November 2 at 9 PM (PST) I’ll be presenting
several short pieces from the SLO Nightwriters’ Anthology
on KEBF 97.3 & streamed on the web.

So good followers, any thoughts about all this thwarting, vetoing & hindering?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & Etymonline


  1. LOL the law firm! I'm much more convinced that bamboozle comes from the Scots than the French baboon thing. Although the spelling may have been influenced by the French. I love the word thwart. When people are thwarted, then tend to get their undies in a twist, so it all comes around. :-)

  2. What a fun job--working day and night to discover the origin of bamboozle. Great word. Is the Wordmonger feeling particularly gotten in the way of these days? Thwarted? Hindered? Stymied? The life of a writer, I would say.

  3. Hi Anne & Christine,
    Anne, I'm glad you like the law firm vision. It seems fitting, especially given our litigious society. And Christine, I'm with you, it would be a fascinating gig being a full time word sleuth.

  4. I think I'm in love, Charlie. In love with bamboozle. I like thwart and use it often like, "I hate being thwarted," which I say most of the time because I usually am by something or someone. The best laid plans, etc. But bamboozle takes the cake. It's one of those words, at least for me, that sounds like its meaning. Like someone being hit over the head with something and stopped dead in their tracks. Love this post as I usually do. And the law firm is priceless. Anne is right.

  5. Hey Paul,
    Maybe next time you're thwarted by some lawbreaking person you can get in touch with Stymie, Bamboozle & Stump, Attorneys at Law.