Printable Version
Pronunciation: horn-swah-gêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To swindle, bamboozle, hoodwink, dupe, scam.

Notes: As is clear from the definition of this word above, a good deal of creativity has gone into making synonyms of swindle. This pure Americanism also uses the present participle, hornswoggling, for the action noun and adjective, and hornswoggler for a personal noun.

In Play: Hornswoggling can be harmless: "Some people think that the primary function of advertising is to hornswoggle the potential customer to buy the product." It can also be dangerous: "The ex-president is trying to hornswoggle the American people into believing the election was rigged and he is still president."

Word History: The history of today's Good Word is unprovable. The most obvious explanation links it to rodeo. In the steer-roping event of a rodeo, the roper throws his lasso around a steer's horns to bring it down. As soon as the steer feels the rope over his horns, he begins to woggle his head, trying to get the noose off. That is called "hornswoggling" according to Peter Watts in A Dictionary of the Old West (Wings Books 1977). I have found one other attestation at Rodeo Lingo, but that may have come from Watts's book, too. Anyway, if this explanation is true, we know a lot about horn. It is a Germanic word from pie ker-/kor- "horn, head", source of English horn, German Horn, Dutch horen, Latin cornu, and Greek keras. We see it also in Russian korova "cow" and Serbian krava "cow". As for woggle, English has three words for such movements: wiggle (tiny movements), waggle (medium movements), and woggle (large, strong movements). (Let's all give an e-bow to Barbara Beeton who, assisted by Tony Bowden, suggested today's playful Good Word and its perhaps mythological origin.)

Dr. Goodword,

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