- To confuse completely; to baffle
The verb flummox describes the action of thoroughly confusing another. Although its definition might imply a sense of unpleasantness, the word has a connotation that is generally light-hearted and usually refers to scenarios that are not especially serious or threatening. In fact, flummox is frequently used in contexts that are meant to be amusing. Specifically, it is often used to refer to the act of stumping another, as with a puzzle or tough situation, or to the thwarting of another's logic. Similarly, it is also commonly used in the past-participle form to describe a state of utter confusion or bewilderment.
Example: The intricacies of the English language never cease to flummox me.
Example: I have never been able to beat the last level of Super Mario; Bowser simply flummoxes me every time!
Example: The maze-like trails left the novice hikers absolutely flummoxed.
Flummoxes: This present-tense form of flummox is used for a singular third-person subjective pronoun such as he, she, or it.
Example: She always flummoxes her husband with her abstract paintings.
Flummoxed: The preterit form of flummox describes a past act of confusing.
Example: As a small child, Mark had been flummoxed by the thought that his schoolteacher went home every night.
Flummoxing: This form of flummox can be used as an adjective to describe something as bewildering or as a noun that specifies the act or state of confusion.
Example: Never a fan of the fantasy genre, Jessica found the twists and turns of Game of Thrones absolutely flummoxing.
In one of life's little ironies, etymologists are actually somewhat confused over the actual origins of flummox. However, consensus agrees that it has its roots in old English (it even sounds British) and probably comes from a dialect of a southern region like Herefordshire or Gloucestershire. Quite possibly it originated from several similar old English words, including flummock, which as a verb meant "to make untidy or perplex" and as a noun meant "a disheveled, unorganized person." Flummox as it is used today has been a part of British English since at least the 1830s, and its first noted usage was in Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers in 1937. Jolly good!
From J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit:
"Seems to know as much about the inside of my larders as I do myself!" thought Mr. Baggins, who was feeling positively flummoxed, and was beginning to wonder whether a most wretched adventure had not come right into his house.
Here, flummoxed refers to poor Mr. Baggins' confusion in regards to a strange visit by the wizard Gandalf. But the hobbit's sense of what the visit portended was spot-on!
- Flummox them, outfox them!
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of flummox. Did you use flummox in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.