August 15, 2013

Case File #013.08.15: BLINDFOLD

In the Old English era, the verb geblindfellian meant “to strike someone blind” or “to cover someone's eyes.” When the word passed into Middle English in the twelfth century, its form was simplified somewhat to blindfellen, the past tense of which was blindfelde. Around the end of the fifteenth century, however, people started mistakenly using the past-tense form as a present-tense verb, and due to a misconception about the word's semantic relationship with fold—an idea that presumably came about because the creation of a blindfold often involves the folding of a piece of cloth—the spelling of blindfelde shifted to the current blindfold around the mid-sixteenth century, and the connotation of literally blinding someone was discarded soon after. The noun senses of blindfold—that is, “a piece of cloth or other such object used as a covering for the eyes” and “something that obscures mental perception”—didn't show up until quite a bit later, though, and etymologists and lexicographers are split over just when that actually took place: some say it occurred as early as 1715, whereas others contend it didn't happen before 1880.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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