Printable Version
Pronunciation: tahm-fu-lê-ree Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: (Facetious) 1. Foolishness, silliness, cutting up, nonsensical behavior. 2. Facetious trickery, practical jokery (like the use of jokery here).

Notes: Today's Good Word comes from a pseudo-name, Tom Fool "half-wit", originally a demeaning term for someone suffering from mental illness. The word seldom implies stupidity today and it never refers to mental retardation. Rather it implies impish silliness or even mild trickery. Today a person given to tomfoolery is a tomfool who is so tomfoolish that he or she behaves tomfoolishly. A synonym to today's word, tomfoolishness, is not impossible.

In Play: People who cut up are generally engaging in tomfoolery and tomfoolery is a much more amusing noun for the behavior than cutting up: "Don't get mad, Farley; the sardines on the cylinder head of your car engine were just a bit of good old boy tomfoolery." College campuses are a constant hotbed of tomfoolery: "I don't call it tomfoolery when the ag students disassemble a tractor, reassemble it in my dorm room, and crank it up, while I'm away for the weekend."

Word History: Tom is a generic term for "boy, man", like Jack: jack-of-all-trades is tom-of-all-trades in some regions. We also get the male implication in tom-boy, tomcat, and tom-doodle, a word meaning pretty much the same as tomfool. Tom, of course, is the nickname for Thomas, originally a Greek first name. Fool was borrowed from Old French fol "buffoon" before the L changed to U, producing Modern French fou. Fol descended from Latin follis "bellows", a word that had developed the sense of "wind-bag, buffoon" by the Late Latin period. (We hope that Perry Lassiter didn't send us this very Good Word out of tomfoolery—we would certainly like to see more like it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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