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Words nearby tinfoil
ABOUT THIS WORD
What is a tinfoil hat?
Where did the term tinfoil hat come from?
In the 19th century, a tinfoil hat was a kind of party hat. The phrase took a turn, though, in the 20th century. A 1920s sci-fi short story, “The Tissue-Culture King” by Julian Huxley, featured characters wearing “caps of metal foil” to evade mind-control waves.
Huxley’s headwear illustrates the core concept of the tinfoil hat: it acts as a kind of Faraday cage to block various kinds of electromagnetic waves. We can find the specific phrase tinfoil hat in the 1980s, by which time it had become associated with individuals who would wear them in the belief they would protect them from nefarious rays seeking to surveil, brainwash, or otherwise influence them.
In the 1980–90s, tinfoil hat became a shorthand for a “conspiracy theorist”—you know, JFK, moon landing, and later, 9/11 truthers. A 1997 internet commenter observed that tinfoil hat was “the oldest insult” on Usenet.
Nevertheless, the tinfoil hat became a full-fledged trope in popular media in the 1990s–2000s. In a 1999 episode of The Simpsons, Bart becomes a paranoid conspiracy theorist wearing a tinfoil hat because he fears Major League Baseball was spying on everyone. Spoiler alert: He was right.
In the 2002 film Signs, Mel Gibson’s character and his family don tinfoil hats to keep aliens from reading their minds. In the late 1990s and 2000s, the cartoon Futurama regularly featured a tinfoil hat-wearing character with some really far-out—veritably cosmic—prophecies.
Musician Weird Al included a verse riffing on tinfoil hats and conspiracy theories in his 2014 parody song of Lorde’s “Royals,” called “FOIL.” In a 2015 episode of the TV show Better Call Saul, a character wraps himself in space blankets to shield him from electromagnetic radiation; he’s threatened with being committed to a mental hospital.
How to use the term tinfoil hat
Tinfoil hat is widely used as an insult for acting crazy or believing in nonsense or “out-there” ideas, including conspiracy theories.
— MichelleTypoQueen (@MichelletypoQ) September 15, 2018
People who suffer from genuine mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, have discussed wearing actual tinfoil hats when dealing with intrusive thoughts and hallucinations. A 2005 study showed, though, that a tinfoil hat actually amplifies radio frequencies instead of blocking them.
More examples of tinfoil hat:
“Study finds conspiracy theories aren’t all spread by tinfoil-hat-wearing crazies”
—RT (headline), April 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for tinfoil
So don your tinfoil hat and learn all about TrapWire, Stratfor, and what you should really be worrying about.TrapWire: The Less-Than-Advertised System To Spy On Americans|Sarah Hedgecock|August 14, 2012|DAILY BEAST
On opening it he found the heads of the suspected burglars packed in tinfoil and in a good state of preservation.Remarks|Bill Nye
The procession, as usual, was enacted by couples, with tinfoil halberds on their shoulders.The Kingdom of God is Within You, What is Art|Lyof N. Tolstoi
Metal plates or sheets of tinfoil serve nicely for this purpose.Letters of a Radio-Engineer to His Son|John Mills
But the cutlass was made of lath, covered with tinfoil, and broke as it fell.Motor Matt's Peril, or, Cast Away in the Bahamas|Stanley R. Matthews
He unrolled from one leg of the prisoner a little cylinder of paper covered with tinfoil and tied firmly in its place.The Magnificent Adventure|Emerson Hough