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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Fools rush in...

It's April Fool's Day. “Fool” has a delightful history. It came into English from the French fol (a stupid or silly person) in the Middle Ages. Back then it was not as contemptuous a word as it is now, more a designation of someone who was simple-minded or lacking in judgement. Indeed, it was even used as a term of endearment (I do not recommend trying this now). Its ultimate origin is the Latin follis (bellows used to pump air into a fire), used in Latin slang to mean a windbag or what we would now call an airhead.

4 comments:

  1. Hello,

    I wonder if that French word was related to the one that designates a crowd ("une folle" ?).

    Sadly, I've always felt that words used to designate a "sea" of people would not be flattering ... unfortunately.

    There are languages where "crowd" is designated by the simple word "multitude".

    ReplyDelete
  2. The French word for "crowd" is foule. It comes from a Latin word fullare, which means "to full cloth" (i.e. to tread or beat it to clean or thicken it, not related to the adjective "full"). A "foule" is so called because it is a place where everything is squished in, much as cloth is when it's fulled.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I see! Thank you very much!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why is April Fool's Day also written as April Fools' Day?

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.