Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Word Nerd Friday: Hoodwink

I was vowing that I was going to write something a little more serious today, but like much of the summer, this week sort of got away from me. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Meanwhile, maybe it was last week’s post where I referenced driving around with boxed-up birds in the back of my van that did it, or maybe it’s the fact that we’re heading into election season, but the word ‘hoodwink’/’hoodwinked’ has popped into my brain, so I thought I’d share some interesting (I think) stuff about that word.

Hoodwink. It’s a great word, isn’t it? Nowadays, it means to trick or deceive someone (Hmm, now why politics make me think of that?), which is not especially nice. Yet, there’s something almost benign or comedic to it, isn’t there? “I’ve been hoodwinked!” Like bamboozled, which has similar meaning. Maybe it’s the double o’s in the word–they’re kind of like googly eyes. Or it’s the way it sounds. Say it out loud: hoodwinked. It sounds kind of harmless, though no one really wants to be hoodwinked.

Most dictionaries trace the word back to the 1600s, where it’s original meaning was different. Back then it meant to blindfold, or cover someone’s eyes (wink) with a hat (hood). And here it’s easy to see both why it morphed into today’s meaning and where it connects with birds of prey.

I have a friend who is a  falconer. He keeps several hawks and falcons and uses them for hunting. Falconry used to be quite popular, and was once referred to as the sport of kings. Now, the thing about birds of prey is they’re really killing machines, and they’re not especially sociable. Even birds that are raised in captivity tend to have an edge to them. When the birds are first being trained, or when they’re being transported from place to place, it’s important to keep them calm. One of the most effective ways to do that is like this:

Where’d everyone go?

The hood covers the bird’s eyes but allows it to breath. Generally, once the hood goes on, the bird calms down. The boxes we used for transporting our birds had small holes that allowed air to get in and keep things cool, but little light. Keeping the bird in the dark, where it couldn’t see, worked the same as the hood. Those boxes are frequently referred to as giant hoods.

My falconer friend told me once that the modern usage of hoowinked–to trick or deceive–arose from the fact that the hood essentially ‘tricks’ the bird into thinking it’s night. I’m not sure about that one; it seems entirely possible that the archaic form of the word–to blindfold–came from the falconry practice and then changed. Either way, it’s still an interesting word with an interesting history. Have a great weekend, everyone!

‘Hooded’ by Patries71, used under Creative Commons license

5 Responses

  1. I have a blogger friend who goes above and beyond tracing the origins of words. I should ask her to do hoodwinked and see what she comes up with and how much the hoods for birds of prey are related.

  2. That's interesting. I love learning about the history of words and one of the reasons I get emails five days a week from

  3. -Alex–I think it would be quite interesting to see what she finds out!

    -Stacy–I don't remember hearing of that movie until I was doing some extra readinag for this post!

    -Donna–Etymology is fun!

    -Carrie–the tough part is getting the hood on (or getting the bird in the box; actually, once they're trained, they go in pretty easily).

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