July 24, 2014
Reading something, I paused recently on the verb “baffle.” In one usage, it means to confuse. In another it means to soften or mute a sound. Assuming they were connected, I wondered which usage came first. Was one a metaphorical extension of the other?
Etymology.com has this surprising entry about “baffle”, which indicates that both derive from yet another usage:
baffle (v.): 1540s, “to disgrace,” perhaps a Scottish respelling of bauchle “to disgrace publicly” (especially a perjured knight), which is probably related to French bafouer “to abuse, hoodwink” (16c.), possibly from baf, a natural sound of disgust, like bah (compare German baff machen “to flabbergast”).
The entry goes on to say that the meaning “to bewilder, confuse” is from 1640s; and that of “to defeat someone’s efforts” is from 1670s.”
“Baffle” as a noun meaning a “shielding device,” is recognized from1881, derived from the verb form, and thus, I suppose, we now use “baffle” also as a verb to mean softening or muting a sound.
But all of this coming from an earliest usage meaning “to disgrace!” What a thought: when we baffle someone, we are disgracing them.