No. of Recommendations: 2
Ambush, Camouflage, Conceal, Disguise...four common words in English describing something being hidden. All four originated from earlier French words...


The word camouflage is another perfect example of a single member of a family of words which was imported into English but which left the rest of its family behind.

The French verb camoufler means to disguise something so as to make it unrecognizable, and was originally thieves’ argot. Camoufler dates from the early 1800’s, and it, itself, probably came from an earlier 1600’s word, camouflet, which was a puff of smoke or a smoke bomb, used to blow smoke (in someone’s eyes, which was used as an original form of camouflage, as a “smoke screen”).

The verb camoufler came into common usage in French during World War I when it became an important military word. Camouflage was what was used to disguise military equipment, or it was the act of disguising, and it was camouflage which was adopted directly into English as camoflage at that time. (Camouflage was even not listed in Webster’s dictionary from 1913, just before the war).

Interesting Side Note: In French, the noun camouflage is an offshoot from the verb camoufler. However, it was the noun camouflage that was initially adopted into English as camouflage, and then English turned the noun camouflage into a verb (to camouflage), thus bypassing camoufler.

Note also that in English, to camouflage can be used in a figurative sense, much as camoufler can be used in French. For example:

He was trying to camouflage (disguise) his intentions --- Il essayait de camoufler ses intentions.

Interesting, but Unimportant, Note: The older French noun camouflet has additional unrelated meanings. During the time when sappers would attempt to dig a tunnel under the walls of a fortress to blow it up, un camouflet was a countering tunnel, built to approach the enemy’s tunnel, with the aim of blowing it up and destroying it before it got close to your walls. And, in casual language, un camouflet can also mean a snub, a put down, or an affront.

Il m’a infligé un camouflet --- He snubbed me or put me down (depending on context).

Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.