Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Did you fall for any April fool pranks on Sunday? One of the pleasures of April 1st is scanning print and online media for made-up stories, though most are easy to spot and few reach the heights of classic pranks of the past, such as the BBC Panorama programme’s spaghetti harvest spoof, or the Guardian‘s elaborate hoax about an imaginary island nation called San Seriffe. Of course, the internet makes it easy to check instantly whether suspect stories are true, though someone I know did fall briefly this year for an item alleging that the government was planning to ban bottomless brunches – events at which a fixed price gets you a certain number of courses plus unlimited booze.

If you are fooled by an April fool, that doesn’t necessarily make you a fool, though you may feel a little foolish for having been so gullible. Fool has other meanings, of course, including a man whose job was to entertain kings, queens and other important people. This kind of fool is also called a jester, though to me the latter term always suggests someone dressed in garish colours and wearing a hat with bells on. Shakespeare brought the figure to a high art in plays such as As You Like It, Twelfth Night and King Lear, where characters who are nominally fools see much more clearly than the wise and powerful.

Another meaning of fool is a delicious summer treat made of crushed fruit and cream, a boon to those with allotments that tend to produce an annual glut of berries. There are also numerous sayings and phrases that feature, among others, fools who are easily parted from their money and fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. And that’s without mentioning the several meanings of the phrasal verbs.

The word fool came into Middle English from the Old French fol meaning ‘fool’ or ‘foolish’ and ultimately from the Latin for ‘bellows’ or ‘windbag’.


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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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