I was watching some show or other the other night and someone on it used the word 'dupe'. In context, it somehow seemed to have an added meaning of duplicate or double, and since I'm quite interested in the idea of double lives and doubles in general right now, I found myself wondering where the word 'dupe' came from. Of course we all know that it means cheat or trick or swindle, but I was wondering how it got its start and whether it did in fact have a double sort of nature.
Well, a dupe is, not so surprisingly, just a shortened form of "duplicate". So much for my fascinating connecting theories. But dupe as in "to dupe" or "to be a dupe" has an interesting, separate source. It comes from the Middle French duppe, which was thieves' jargon, and one thought is that it goes back to de huppe, or, in our language, "of the hoopoe", which was thought to be an incredibly stupid bird. I guess in English a gull, or even a dodo might stand in for this. I don't think I've ever heard a dim bulb described as a hoopoe here, at any rate.
This isn't the first time thieve's jargon has come up around these parts. It surfaced in the word posh, a post which also led to the discovery of another secret language--polari. I mention this mainly because I came across an article in this month's issue of The Believer, which talks about why the polari language is dying and what that means. Here's the link, but it will only give you the beginning of the thing. I leave you to your own devices to read the rest.
Is the hoopoe really all that stupid?
Maybe, maybe not. But they certainly don't lack an inquisitive streak.