There’s mystery surrounding this week’s wacky word. Despite a listing in Peter Watts’s 1977 reference book A Dictionary of the Old West – and an almost plausible explanation for its etymology – the word hornswoggle remains unexplained.
This word should be immediately recognisable as an American colloquialism, though it is listed in the Macquarie Dictionary also. It means “to deceive or con”, and the phrase “I’ll be hornswoggled” can also be an exclamation of amazement. It first appeared in print around 1829 and has remained popular in the US. (Even the World Wrestling Entertainment has its own Hornswoggle, a diminutive and popular wrestling champion.)
In 1920 hornswoggle popped up in PG Wodehouse’s Little Warrior.