Adventures in Etymology – Fool

As yesterday was April Fools’ Day, today we’re looking into the origins of the word fool.

walking fool

A fool [fuːl] is:

  • a person with poor judgment or little intelligence.
  • a professional jester, formerly kept by a person of royal or noble rank for amusement.
  • a person who has been tricked or deceived into appearing or acting silly or stupid.
  • a type of dessert made of puréed fruit and custard or cream.

It comes from the Middle English fole [foːl] (fool, idiot, moron), from the Old French fol [ˈfɔl] (mad, insane, foolish, silly), from the Latin follis [ˈfol.lis] (bellows, purse, sack, belly), from the PIE *bʰelǵʰ- (bag, pillow, paunch), from *bʰel- (to swell, blow, inflate, burst) [source].

Some words in Celtic languages comes from the same PIE root, via the Proto-Celtic *bolgos (sack, bag, stomach). These include bol [bɔl] (stomach) in Welsh, bolg [ˈbˠɔlˠəɡ] (belly, stomach, bulge, bag) in Irish, and bolgan [bɔl̪ˠɔgan] (light bulb, (plant) bulb) in Scottish Gaelic [source]. More details of these words is available on my Celtiadur blog.

English words from the same PIE root include bellows, belly, and bolster, via Old English and Proto-Germanic, billow via Old Norse and Proto-Germanic, foolish and folly via Old French and Latin [source], and bulge, budge and budget via Old French, Latin and Gaulish [source].

The first part of the word foolhardy (recklessly or thoughtlessly bold; foolishly rash or venturesome) comes from the same root as fool, while hardy comes from the Old French hardi (durable, hardy, tough), from the Frankish *hartjan, from the Proto-Germanic *harduz [ˈxɑr.ðuz] (hard, brave), from the PIE *kert-/*kret- (strong, powerful), from which part of the word democratic originates [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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