Deluded: the New Field of Future Etymology


Around 2003 a particularly lively group of students produced — without me asking them to — a set of banknotes for a simulation game I had designed for them to use at a study weekend or gasshuku.  I thought it might make an eye-catching picture to go with the thoughts below on the word “deluded” (“Is this guy so deluded and narcissistic as to want his face on a banknote?”)

The other day I was talking to an old friend who shares my interest in word roots. I wondered aloud if we could think of the word “deluded”, which has its origins in the Latin verb ludere meaning “to play,” as meaning “having the playfulness taken out of us.”  In other words, is the core meaning of “deluded” that we are in a confused and self-deceptive state when we have lost our sense of playfulness, when we are taking ourselves (or “things”) too seriously?

The conventional interpretation is that someone who is deluded has been tricked (a trick has been played on that person),  and we see this  in  the dictionary entry below (copied and pasted here for convenience from Apple’s built-in but somewhat dated version of the Oxford dictionary).  Scholars can no doubt argue that there is no historical evidence for the “playfulness removed” interpretation of the root of “deluded”that I am suggesting.  My response to  such an objection is to say — perhaps somewhat playfully but also in all seriousness — that we can look at history as it presents its evidence to us, and at the same time choose (as we do in every field when autonomy and personal authority see an opportunity to assert themselves) the new history that we wish to create.

So if we want to say, from now on, that the root or core meaning is as I suggested above, it can indeed from now on be true.  But this goes with an enormous caveat: in order to make it actually true rather than simply verbally assert that it is so, we have to hold within us an understanding of how (seriously) important it is for us to be playful in our lives. For humans to integrate playfulness and seriousness — to see play and work as inseparable — would be a great step forward in our evolution, a step into an era in which the field of future etymology would naturally be held in high regard.

delude |dəˈlud|

verb [with object]

impose a misleading belief upon (someone); deceive; fool: too many theorists have deluded the public | (as adjective deluded) : the poor deluded creature.


deludedly adverb.

deluder noun


late Middle English: from Latin deludere ‘to mock,’ from de- (with pejorative force) + ludere ‘to play.’

early 21st Century global English: from Latin de- (taken away from)  +   ludere ‘to play.’ A person who is “deluded” is misunderstanding and failing to grasp the reality of something  (or someone or him/herself)  by dint of being too serious about it.

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