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  • Christine Bernard

Tomfoolery — Just Who Was Tom?

A little bit of etymology on my favourite word

Little girl hiding at the top of a cupboard
Definitely a bit of tomfoolery going on here

Do you have a favourite word?

I’ve always loved TOMFOOLERY.

  1. For its meaning.

  2. For the way it sounds. It sounds like what it means.

What is the definition of tomfoolery?

Tomfoolery means playful or foolish behaviour. And boy do I do a lot of that.

What is the etymology of the word tomfoolery?

According to Merriam-Webster, in the Middle Ages, Thome Fole was a name assigned to those were perceived to be of little intelligence. This evolved into the spelling tomfool, which, when capitalized, also referred to a professional clown or buffoon in a play.

It seems the name was simply chosen for it’s common-man quality, almost like Joe Soap.

Despite it’s name, tomfoolery is not just for men, though. In Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908), for example, Marilla Cuthbert complains of Anne: “She’s gadding off somewhere with Diana, writing stories or practicing dialogues or some such tomfoolery, and never thinking once about the time or her duties.”

Go on, tell me what word you love best.


Love words? You probably love books then. Go on, take a look at mine!

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