"fall guy, victim of a deception," by 1903, of uncertain origin, possibly an alteration of Italian pazzo "madman" (see patch (n.2)), or south Italian dialectal paccio "fool." Another theory traces it to Patsy Bolivar, character created by Billy B. Van in an 1890s vaudeville skit who was blamed whenever anything went wrong.
"Poor Rogers," Vincent said, still smiling, "he is always the 'Patsy Bolivar' of the school."
"Yes," Frank answered, "if there are any mistakes to be made or trouble to fall into, Rogers seems to be always the victim."
["Anthony Yorke," "A College Boy," 1899]
late 15c., "to divert the attention, beguile, delude," from Old French amuser "fool, tease, hoax, entrap; make fun of," literally "cause to muse" (as a distraction), from a "at, to" (from Latin ad, but here probably a causal prefix) + muser "ponder, stare fixedly" (see muse (v.)).
Original English senses obsolete; meaning "divert from serious business, tickle the fancy of" is recorded from 1630s, but through 18c. the primary meaning was "deceive, cheat" by first occupying the attention. "The word was not in reg. use bef. 1600, and was not used by Shakespere" [OED]. Bemuse retains more of the original meaning. Greek amousos meant "without Muses," hence "uneducated."
c. 1200, "mild, well-mannered," Old English gedæfte "gentle, becoming," from Proto-Germanic *gadaftjaz (source also of Old English daeftan "to put in order, arrange," gedafen "suitable;" Gothic gadaban "to be fit"), from *dab-, which has no certain IE etymology and is perhaps a substratum word.
Sense deteriorated to "dull, awkward, uncouth, boorish" (c. 1300), perhaps via the notion of "humble." Further evolution to "foolish, simple, stupid" (mid-15c.) and "crazy" (1530s) probably was influenced by analogy with daffe "halfwit, fool, idiot" (see daffy); the whole group probably has a common origin. For sense evolution, compare nice, silly. Related: Daftly; daftness.
late 14c., "deranged, insane;" also "foolish, silly, unwise," from fonned, past-participle adjective from obsolete verb fon, fonne (Middle English fonnen) "be foolish, be simple," from Middle English fonne "a fool, stupid person" (early 14c.), which is of uncertain origin but perhaps from Scandinavian. Related: Fonder; fondest.
Meaning evolved via "foolishly tender" to "having strong affections for" (by 1570s; compare doting under dote). Another sense of the verb fon was "to lose savor" (late 14c. in Middle English past participle fonnyd), which may be the original meaning of the word:
Gif þe salt be fonnyd it is not worþi [Wyclif, Matthew v.13, c. 1380]
mid-15c., "cry of dissatisfaction or contempt," from hoot (v.). Meaning "a laugh, something funny" is first recorded 1942. Slang sense of "smallest amount or particle" (the hoot you don't give when you don't care) is from 1891.
"A dod blasted ole fool!" answered the captain, who, till now, had been merely an amused on-looker. "Ye know all this rumpus wont do nobuddy a hoot o' good—not a hoot." ["Along Traverse Shores," Traverse City, Michigan, 1891]
Hooter in the same sense is from 1839.
HOOTER. Probably a corruption of iota. Common in New York in such phrases as "I don't care a hooter for him." "This note ain't worth a hooter." [John Russell Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1877]
Middle English dusie, from Old English dysig "foolish, stupid" (obsolete in the original sense except in dialect from 13c.), from Proto-Germanic *dusijaz (source also of Low German düsig "dizzy," Dutch duizelen "to be dizzy," Old High German dusig "foolish," German Tor "fool," Old English dwæs, Dutch dwaas "foolish"), perhaps from PIE *dheu- (1) "dust, vapor, smoke; to rise in a cloud" (and related notions of "defective perception or wits"). Old English used related dyslic to gloss Latin absurdum, which also seems to imply some defect of the senses (see absurd).
The meaning "having a whirling sensation" is from c. 1400; that of "giddy, thoughtless, heedless," is from c. 1500 and seems to merge the two earlier meanings. Used of the "foolish virgins" in early translations of Matthew xxv; used especially of blondes since 1870s. Related: Dizzily.
1560s, clowne, also cloyne, "man of rustic or coarse manners, boor, peasant," a word of obscure origin; the original form and pronunciation are uncertain. Perhaps it is from Scandinavian dialect (compare Icelandic klunni "clumsy, boorish fellow;" Swedish kluns "a hard knob; a clumsy fellow," Danish klunt "log, block"), or from Low German (compare North Frisian klönne "clumsy person," Dutch kloen). OED describes it as "a word meaning originally 'clod, clot, lump', which like those words themselves ..., has been applied in various langs. to a clumsy boor, a lout."
The theory that it is from Latin colonus "colonist, farmer" is less likely, but awareness of the Latin word might have influenced the sense development in English.
Meaning "professional fool, professional or habitual jester" is c. 1600. "The pantomime clown represents a blend of the Shakes[pearean] rustic with one of the stock types of the It[alian] comedy" [Weekley]. Meaning "contemptible person" is from 1920s. Fem. form clowness attested from 1801.
c. 1200, doten, "behave irrationally, do foolish things, be or become silly or deranged," also "be feeble-minded from age," probably from an unrecorded Old English word akin to Middle Low German and Middle Dutch doten "be foolish, be out of one's mind," all of which are of unknown origin, or directly from these words.
Century Dictionary and OED compare Dutch dutten "take a nap; mope;" Icelandic dotta "to nod, sleep;" Middle High German totzen "take a nap." Wedgwood writes, "The radical sense seems to be to nod the head, thence to become sleepy, to doze, to become confused in the understanding."
From late 15c. as "be infatuated, bestow excessive love." Also in Middle English "to decay, deteriorate," in reference to rotten timber, etc. (mid-15c.). There was a noun dote "fool, simpleton, senile man" (mid-12c.), but Middle English Compendium considers this to be from the verb. Related: Doted; dotes; doting.
"a person's mouth or face," 1708, possibly an extended sense of mug (n.1), based on the old drinking mugs shaped like grotesque faces, popular in England from 17c. Sense of "portrait or photograph in police records" had emerged by 1873.
When the notorious "Shaver Good" and his accomplices were arrested, and the robbery of several houses and stores fastened upon them, Good said, with all apparent sincerity, "I have travelled every city in the United States for the last seventeen years, and was never collared before, and I would not have been now, but for that 'mug' of mine that sticks in your gallery. ["Annual Report of the Chief of Police for 1873," Boston, Mass.]
Hence mug-shot (by 1950). Meaning "stupid or incompetent person, dupe, fool, sucker" is by 1851 in thieves' slang; hence "a person" generally (especially "a criminal"), by 1890. Mug's game "foolish, thankless, or unprofitable activity" is by 1890.