In last week’s post we looked at words like shenanigans, meaning up to no good. In honor of Tom, who regularly comments on Wordmonger, this week’s words chronicle shenanigans of a kinder & goofier nature.
The word tomfoolery, meaning foolish trifling, appeared in English in 1812. It came from the 1640s noun tom-fool, which meant a buffoon or clown.
Since the 1580s, English speakers have been using the word frolic, originally meaning making merry. The verb frolic came from an older adjective meaning joyous or full of mirth. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to hop.
Also in the 1580s the noun horseplay was born, meaning overly rough play. The term doesn’t actually refer to creatures of the equine variety, but refers instead to a secondary meaning of horse (strong or coarse). Horseplay gave birth to a related term in 1793, horsing (to play excessive jokes on), and another, horsing around (to join in boisterous play), in 1928.
In the 1590s the verb caper was born. It originally meant a playful leap or jump. By 1600, one could cut capers, or dance in a frolicsome manner. Caper added the meaning prank in 1840 & the meaning crime in 1926. It appears caper came to English from the Italian word capriolare, to jump in the air.
Another way to say prank or caper is the American-born noun, dido. It generally appears in the idiom to cut didoes.
In 1709 the verb romp, meaning to play, sport or frolic appeared. By 1734 the noun romp showed up, meaning piece of lively play. In 1909 romp transformed to a word meaning small children’s overalls – rompers. And those readers of a particular age will recall the children’s TV show, Romper Room, which first aired in 1953.
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say in the comments section about this etymological romp.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.