Who’s a fool?

By MaryAnn

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I will spare you the tedious and oft-repeated history of this day and how it came to be on our calendars. Instead, I thought I’d write about fools in general–not just the ones associated with the day itself.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest recorded use of the word fool  is from 1275. The OED goes on for more than two full pages, defining and describing all the uses of the word in its various forms throughout the ages, ending with fool’s paradise.

Furthermore, the OED says, “The word has in modern English a much stronger sense than it had at an earlier period; it has now an implication of insulting contempt which does not in the same degree belong to any of its synonyms, or to the derivative foolish.”

Along the way between fool and fool’s paradise we run into such useful terms as fool’s rack: “a pernicious spirit, in which..the stinging sea-blubber was mixed” (who knew?)  and foolocracy: “government by fools, or a governing class or clique consisting of fools.” This particular word was in usage as early as the 1800’s, but could still be useful today, especially when applied to certain political figures.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us the word fool may be used either as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. How many words do you know that can be used that many ways?

In other words, your neighbor might be a fool (used as a noun), or you might fool your neighbor (used as a verb), or that fool neighbor might have run into your mailbox again (used as an adjective)! Don’t you just love the English language?

Also according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definitions of fool (used as a noun, of course) are various:

One definition reads: A retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble. Sounds like a fun job, don’t you think?

But the word fool can also be used as a noun to describe a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water! If you’d like to create your own fool, check out Rustic Fruit Desserts and see the rhubarb fool recipe on page 18. The cookbook editors note that “any fool can make it!”

For other word usage, you might search the Fontana Regional Library‘s catalog for titles using the word fool. If you did, you would find nearly 50 titles which use that word, either as part of the title or all alone. These vary from A Great and Sublime Fool: the story of Mark Twain to The Motley Fool investment guide for teens.

Try it yourself–see how many fools you can find!

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