• flummox •
flê-mêks • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To confuse, befuddle, addle to the point of frustration.
Notes: This funny word might have passed unnoticed in the broader English-speaking world had it not become ensconced in the vocabularies of reporters. Its spelling has fluctuated between the one you see above, flummux, and flummocks, a spelling reflected in the adjective, flummocky "confused, bewildered". The adjective seems to be the only derivational relative.
In Play: Life today is getting so complicated, people find themselves flummoxed more and more frequently: "When Matt Tremony asked June McBride to marry him, he was flummoxed by her response that she would, but only if he would sign a prenuptial agreement giving her all his money in case of divorce." As work becomes more complicated, opportunities for today's Good Word multiply: "The responsibilities of his new job were so far above Newton's head that he was flummoxed at the outset and lasted only a month in the new position."
Word History: Flummox comes to us from the dialectal recesses of Merry Old and reached London around the 1830s. Dickens wrote in the Pickwick Papers (1837) "He'll be what the Italians call reg'larly flummoxed." Well, what the Dickens was Dickens thinking? He must have been flummoxed by the origin of the word—it certainly didn't come from Italian. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the granddaddy of all English dictionaries, it is probably of dialectal origin. It most likely comes from flummocks "to maul, mangle," flummock "slovenly person," or flummock "to make untidy, to confuse, bewilder". How it got into the dialects of UK English, however, still has us all flummoxed. (We are so happy that Susan Lister was not flummoxed by what to do with this word, but sent it directly to us to share with you.)
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