Bamboozled: This Fun & Fancy Word is more important than ever


It means to be hoodwinked, flimflammed, hornswoggled — all fun & fancy words that mean to be tricked, deceived in underhanded ways. Like the way Tom Sawyer bamboozled his friends into whitewashing that fence for him, so he could play all day. But, what is this Fun & Fancy Word’s connection to book banning?

We may see Twain’s character as clever, and the iconic fence-painting scene as a laugh-worthy observation about human nature. But being bamboozled can be a very serious matter. As Carl Sagan, the popular public advocate of scientific inquiry, pointed out:

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: if we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. [1]

Sagan also reminds us that careless thinking is easily bamboozled by “baloney” (another fun & fancy word that means foolish or deceptive talk.)

… flimflam and wishes disguised as facts are not restricted to parlour magic [like seances have repeatedly been proven to employ] and ambiguous advice on matters of the heart [the trademark of sketchy psychics everywhere]. Unfortunately, they ripple through mainstream political, social, religious and economic issues in every nation. [2]

Which is why critical thinking is essential to a democratic society… so the electorate avoids being bamboozled by a charlatan’s baloney, when he claims he alone can fix the political, social, and economic issues of the day.

Bamboozled is also an important word when it comes to the recent surge in book bans and censorship, those professed to be for children’s benefit and protection. Because, as literacy scholars Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston point out, when we actually look at what happens when students read the types of books being challenged, we see that their reading achievement improves significantly. And that’s just for starters.

Students also exhibit improved self-control. They build more and stronger friendships, not to mention family relationships. Students report that reading books about characters with complicated lives helped them become morally stronger. Not to mention being “happier… Yes, happier.” (No small consideration given the increased number of adolescents experiencing mental health issues.)[3]

Such findings fly in the face of banners’ claims that certain books foment disobedience in young readers, and disrespect for their parents. Or that learning about difficult aspects of American history will throw students into a spiral of self-hatred. Or that engaging characters dealing with abuse or addiction will cause readers to become traumatized. Or that learning empathy for people whose lives are different from our own leads to moral perversion.

Those who want to restrict what’s in our libraries, or redact American history, depend on us being bamboozled to get away with it.

So, don’t be bamboozled by that baloney. Read! And read widely. Dig into the wealth of fabulous and meaningful literature that’s out there. It’s the most effective way to cultivate critical thinking skills. Because we all know a “Tom Sawyer.”

Pair this with:
What Actually Happens When Young People Read “Disturbing Books.

#fun & fancy words        #critical thinking       #censorship 


[1] Sagan, Carl. Pg 230. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. (London: Headline Book Publishing, 1996), Pg 230.

[2] Sagan, Carl. Pg 230. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. (London: Headline Book Publishing, 1996), Pg 233.

[3] Gay Ivey, Peter Johnson. “What Happens When Young People Actually Read ‘Disturbing’ Books.” Teachers College Press blog. October 31, 2023.

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