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[bam-boo-zuh l] /bæmˈbu zəl/
verb (used with object), bamboozled, bamboozling.
to deceive or get the better of (someone) by trickery, flattery, or the like; humbug; hoodwink (often followed by into):
They bamboozled us into joining the club.
to perplex; mystify; confound.
verb (used without object), bamboozled, bamboozling.
to practice trickery, deception, cozenage, or the like:
He bamboozled his way to the top.
Origin of bamboozle
First recorded in 1695-1705; origin uncertain
Related forms
bamboozlement, noun
bamboozler, noun
Word story
Bamboozle is one of those words that has been confounding etymologists for centuries. No one knows for sure what its origins are. One thing we do know is that it was originally considered “low language,” at least among such defenders of the language as British satirist Jonathan Swift, who hoped (and predicted) that it would quickly fade from the English lexicon.
The earliest meaning of bamboozle was “to deceive by trickery, hoodwink,” which is why some believe that it arose among the criminals of the underworld. One colorful, but unlikely, theory has it that bamboozle comes from bombazine, a kind of fabric that, dyed black, used to be worn for mourning. One has to imagine black-bombazine-wearing widows in the mid- to late 17th century bilking young gentlemen out of their purses.
By 1712, it had acquired the sense “to perplex; mystify.” It is not known for certain, but this sense might have emerged under the influence of the Scottish word bumbaze (or bombaze), meaning “to confuse,” similar in both sound and meaning. Given the befuddling qualities of alcohol, it's not too surprising to find that, in the 1800's, bamboozle showed up on college campuses as a slang term for “drunk.”
Far from slinking into obscurity, bamboozle today has left its lowly roots behind and found a secure place in the lexicon of standard English. Its very longevity stands as a reminder that you can't predict or enforce the fate of a word.
Related Quotations
“The best day for people of any age to trick and be tricked is April Fool's Day, when we celebrate being bamboozled by harmless hoaxes. As Mark Twain said, ‘April 1 is the day on which we are reminded what we are on the other 364.’“
—Kathryn Lindskoog, Fakes, Frauds & Other Malarkey (1992)
“Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!“
—Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in the movie Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee, American Rhetoric (1992)
“They’re counting on that you all forgot. They think that they can run the okey-doke on you. Bamboozle you.“
—Barack Obama, in a speech at a fundraiser in Atlanta, “Obama: Republicans want to ‘bamboozle’ voters this November“ Ballot Box (blog) reported by Sam Youngman (August 2, 2010)
“I'll bambousle him, I'll befogify his brain.“
—Thomas Chandler Haliburton, The Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville (1838)
“Oh, you're a hot-air artist, but you can't bamboozle me!“
—Van Zo Post, Diana Ardway (1913) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for bamboozled
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She's bamboozled that sap-headed county judge, Boompointer, into givin' it to her.

  • The Chinese have bamboozled and baffled us, that is the plain truth.

    The Greville Memoirs (Second Part) Charles C. F. Greville
  • And as a matter of fact I was left just as bamboozled as you were.

    Simon J. Storer Clouston
  • You may have bamboozled the President, after all he's only a civilian, but you're not about to fool me!

  • Neither she nor any other shall be befooled and bamboozled under my roof.

    Imaginary Conversations and Poems Walter Savage Landor
  • I want to tell you that you're bein' played; that you're bein' befooled and bamboozled and honey-fogled.

    Cressy Bret Harte
British Dictionary definitions for bamboozled


verb (transitive) (informal)
to cheat; mislead
to confuse
Derived Forms
bamboozler, noun
bamboozlement, noun
Word Origin
C18: of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for bamboozled



1703, originally a slang or cant word, perhaps Scottish from bombaze "perplex," related to bombast, or French embabouiner "to make a fool (literally 'baboon') of." Related: Bamboozled; bamboozling. As a noun from 1703.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for bamboozled



Confused; mystified (1800s+)



To hoax; trick; swindle; flimflam: My worthy opponent thrives by bamboozling the public

[Underworld 1700s+; origin unknown and much disputed; some claim a Romany source]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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