Request special: BUMBAZE (probability 32210), by David Sutton

BUMBAZE is an old Scottish word meaning to puzzle or perplex. I like the current Zyzzyva definition, which in case you are in any doubt gives the meaning as 'to perplex (to puzzle (to perplex ((to puzzle)))'. It appears, for example, in Sir Walter Scott's 'Redgauntlet': 'How the scoundrel redcoats must have been bumbazed'.

The origin of the word is obscure, but the OED tentatively links it to an old verb BAZE* (to stupefy) and suggests that BUM in this case is merely an intensive prefix, having no connection with the vulgar word for posterior, pointing to a possible connection with BAMBOOZLE. Confusingly though, the word has a strong resemblance to another old word BUMBASTE*, meaning to beat or flog, where the BUM element does have the obvious anatomical connection. And just to illustrate how words become inextricably tangled due to etymological misunderstanding, BUMBASTE* became an old variant form of BOMBAST, padding or stuffing, which derives from the French bombace and has no connection whatsoever with bums or basting.

While on the subject, let's have a look at some other BUM- words. There is the delightful if unlikely to be played southern US word BUMFUZZLE, which seems to be an adaptation of BAMBOOZLE, so here again the anatomical vulgarity has pushed its way in. The BUM in BUMBOAT probably does have to do with bums, however: a BUMBOAT was originally a scavenger's boat, employed to remove 'filth' from ships lying in the Thames, but they soon doubled up on the job of bringing fruit and vegetables for sale aboard the ships, there being in those times a fairly robust attitude towards matters of hygiene. Similarly the appellation BUMBAILIFF conveys a crude contempt: a BUMBAILIFF was a bailiff of the lowest kind, employed to arrest debtors, the suggestion being that he shafted his victims from the rear, so to speak.

A BUMMAREE was a porter at Smithfield meat-market, or a middleman in the fish-trade at Billingsgate; the origin here is unknown. BUMMOCK sounds like a rude gesture made by waggling the backside, but is actually an Orkney word meaning a brewing of ale for a feast and again has no connection with bums. And a BUMALO or BUMMALO (with variants BUMALOTI or BUMMALOTI) is a small Indian fish, also known as Bombay duck; the word is from the Marathi bombil.

Finally, the vulgar-sounding BUMBERSHOOT, meaning an umbrella, is just a facetious adaptation of UMBRELLA + CHUTE, as in parachute.


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