Your relentless scribe was seeking the etymology of the word, “baffle.” As in, “I am baffled by that commercial where Matthew MaConaughey is coming down from airless space in a hot air balloon and yelling at everybody and wow, what a case of hat head he has.” (Seriously, Go back and look at it.)
And really, you could point to half a dozen commercials from yesterday’s Big Game and say, “What was THAT? I’m baffled!” However, I’m finding myself baffled by the etymology of the word “baffle” vis-à-vis, “to perplex.” Yes, one can draw inferences about how we got from the technical idea of bafflement to perplexity.
But we want a concrete and definitive answer here. So, as I’m scratching my head and perplexing over baffle and finding sudden joy in the word being an obsolete seaman’s term for "winds that blow variously, making headway difficult" (and boy have I been there, literally as well as metaphorically), I’ve stumbled upon another word that has often forced me to wonder, “Where does that come from?”
Hello, “Hoodwinked”! As in, “I’m feeling hoodwinked that my tax dollars were used to buy a spot in The Big Game to tell me to get fake vaccinated!” (No, I’m not an anti-vaxxer or a fake-newser, but someone out there is one or both, so it just seems fair to provide equal time as the federal government used to mandate that broadcasters do when delivering political messages. But I digress.)
Hoodwink! The meaning? To deceive! How topical that is in our culture of fake news during the Big Game in The Violent Hell That Is Now Los Angeles. I mean, who’s even sure the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually won the game last night? No, you didn’t see them on the field. But people are talking about it. The alternate universe in which the Bengals won the game is a place rife with advocacy sports journalism and deadly blunt blather.
Blather! There’s a word we have to research. Well, no we don’t. It’s easy. It comes from the Old Norse, “blathara,” meaning to talk nonsense. Sometimes those Scandinavians get it right, the Saab 9-7X SUV built in Ohio notwithstanding. But all that and other nonsense aside, including those half a dozen head scratching “messages” from the Big Game Advertising Abyss of last night, where advertisers left you baffled if not feeling hoodwinked, you need (need!) to know that the word “hoodwink” hails from a different time altogether. Today, "hoodwink" is a laughable way of talking about a scam as if one is a Dead End Kid from a 1940s black & white movie.
Hoodwinking actually comes to us from the age of the highwaymen. And no, not the Scarlet Pimpernel kind of Hollywood movie highwaymen where there’s a guy who isn’t really a fop and isn’t really a bandit and a woman who’s disgusted by his foppish fake side yet lusts after his fake alter ego. No, you bet your bloomers not. We’re talking real, dangerous, rob you and possibly kill you as opposed to romancing you highwaymen.
And imagine my surprise! The word “Hoodwink” is a mashup (though they didn’t have that mashed-up term in the days of the highwaymen) of the words “hood” and “wink.” Insert GASP here!
The "hood" part is The Bag. The highwayman would put The Bag over your head so you could see neither his face nor what he was doing nor what advertiser he was doing it for. (For some reason, back then they always stitched the corporate logo over the left breast of the highwayman's dashing if impractical cape. Why?!)
The "wink" part is another headscratcher. That’s until you realize that back in the days of the highwaymen, when the highways were merely dirt doubletrack instead of the paved and crumbling coast-to-coast infrastructure dangerway networks we have now, the word “wink” meant something different.
Today, we see a wink as a closing of one eye to demonstrate complicity or a mutual secret. However, the obsolete meaning of “wink” is to literally close one’s eyes. Yes, both of 'em. So being hoodwinked means having one’s eyes effectively closed involuntarily by a bag over the head. (I’m hoping that bag was made of a coarse-weave fabric so as to facilitate breathing. Today, it could easily be a plastic bag from a big-box Big Game advertiser store and would kill you as soon as blow away and mercilessly pollute your fisheries. But again: I digress.)
So, the hoodwink, while today being seen as a somewhat dated word meaning to run a scam on someone, actually stems from a literal obstruction of one's vision via a hood. So if your bafflement over the blather of the adversphere of the Big Game was more than you bargained for, take solace in knowing that at least some things really are as simple as they seem and don’t require deep investigation, especially when they weren’t keeping you up at night to begin with. Now baffle my blather, baby!
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.