Thursday, October 4, 2018

Language of Confusion: Tricks

It is Halloween season after all.

Trick showed up in the early fifteenth century meaning a cheat or mean ruse. You know, a trick. It comes from the Old North French trique, which is trick with a Q even though it comes from trickier where they just use a K. Whatever. Before that it was the Old French trichier, also trick, but earlier is unsure. It might be from the Vulgar Latin triccare and classical Latin tricae, which means tricks or troubles. That certainly makes sense, but the one thing you should be learning from these etymology posts is that word origins rarely make sense.

Hoax showed up in 1796, yes, a specific year, and it’s thought to come from hocus—you know, like hocus-pocus. Not the movie. Do not start in about the movie. That phrase, which was a “magical formula used in conjuring”, showed up in the early seventeenth century. It’s origin is uncertain, but there’s a possibility that it’s from a Latin phrase said in mass, “Hoc est corpus meum”, or “This is my body”. But it’s also just as likely to have a completely different origin.

Prank showed up in the mid sixteenth century, and it’s of uncertain origin. In other words, they don’t actually know where it came from. There was actually another prank that meant decorate or dress up, which is from the Middle Low German prank, display. But like hoax, there’s no conclusive decision on whether or not they’re actually related. This could just be another one of those random things.

Spoof showed up in 1889 meaning hoax or deception, although it existed in 1884 as spouf. Apparently an old British comedian named Arthur Roberts used it as the name of a game he invented. Later, in 1914, it started to mean parody or satirize, and then in 1958 it became a “satirical skit”.

Geez, most of these words seem relatively new. Did people just not prank each other back in the middle ages?



  1. Probably difficult to have a sense of humor when you're starving and struggling to survive.

  2. Oh, yeah, spoof... It's totally a drinking game.
    I'm sure Brett knows all about it.

  3. I'm sure they did prank each other. They probably just called it something else.

  4. Hocus-pocus means this is my body? Now that is really odd.

  5. I'm sure people did prank, but not sure what they would call it. Jest? :)

  6. Interesting how some words you think should have been around as long as mankind are new. My guess is that there were words for pranking and spoofing, but they've disappeared into the mists of time.

  7. I'd have thought spoof dated back further.


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