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In the 14th century the name denoted "the stupid man personified." By the 19th century, the given and surnames had been fused into an noun denoting any type of stupidity. What word is it?




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Answer: tomfoolery

The word tomfoolery (foolish behaviour) derives from Middle English Thom Foole, the mentally-deficient man personified.

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I think foolishness and stupidity are different. Foolish people can be quite intelligent (Bill Clinton was foolish to become involved with Monica Lewinsky, but he certainly isn't stupid).

The opposite of foolish, I believe, is wise; the opposite of stupid, intelligent; and the opposite of ignorant, informed. We use the negative words interchangeably, but inaccurately, I think.

[Mootguy: Good point. Thanks for emphasizing the distinction.]
kgrimes. at .ferrum.edu
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Should be the fusion of given name and surname ("tomfool), plus the addition of a suffix ("-ery").

[Mootguy: Another good point. If this question makes it into MooT 2, it will be much better than the one I sent out to the mailing list. Thanks for the feedback.]
jacko. at .lycos.com
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"Tomfoolery", in my experience, has always meant silly or suspicious behavior - not a stupid person - as in, "What kind of tomfoolery is this?"
cschlaeger at cbburnet.com
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Intelligent, informed points these folk make. Let us dig deeper. From whence does the connotation of Thom Foole as "mentally-deficient man personified" come? Does anyone know?
yeageka. at .earlham.edu
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