Where does the word “baffle” come from and What does it mean?

Little is known of its source, but baffle, in the sixteenth century, was thought to be a Scottish term.

We use it now when we mean “to flabbergast, confuse, frustrate, foil”; but in those days it meant “to disgrace publicly.”

It seems to have referred especially to the manner in which a knight who had forsworn his oath was held up to ridicule and ignominy. For, in the earliest record, we are told that the Scots would “baffull” such a man.

This, says the account, was done by painting a picture of him, in which he was shown hung up by the heels. Edmund Spenser describes it in Faerie Queene:

He by the heels him hung upon a tree
And bafful’d so, that all which passed by
The picture of his punishment might see.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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