Quacks and jugglers

Etymological dictionaries can be uncannily prescient. While many people scoff at the idea of prophecy, I’m less certain: there appears to be a prophetic element in etymology itself:


The following is part of the actual etymology of the word “trump”. I have highlighted notable words in red:

‘”fabricate, devise” 1690s, from trump “deceive, cheat” (1510s), from Middle English trumpen (late 14c.), from Old French tromper “to deceive” of uncertain origin. Apparently from se tromper de “to mock” from Old French tromper “to blow a trumpet.” Brachet explains this as “to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying …” The Hindley Old French dictionary has baillier la trompe “blow the trumpet” as “act the fool“‘.

This etymological game lead to my exploring the word “mountback” cited above. Again, the prescience of words:

‘mountebank (n.)”a doctor that mounts a bench in the market, and boasts his infallible remedies and cures“. [Johnson], 1570s, from Italian montambanco, contraction of monta in bancoquack, juggler” literally “mount on bench” (to be seen by crowd), from monta, imperative of montare “to mount” (see mount (v.)) + banco, variant of banca “bench” (see bank (n.2)). Figurative and extended senses from 1580s.

That last sentence I highlighted simply because since the 1580’s we need no longer understand these words literally; there are those who figuratively mount their political soapboxes to boast of their infallible remedies for society’s perceived ills. They continue to fabricate, devise, deceive, cheat and mock us. With what naivety we respond to their “horn blowing”, their strident calls to buy their shabby panaceas, their toxic snake oil.

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