Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

The soft slither of pronouncing ‘bewilder’ has always thrilled me, as has its infinite possibility for enchantment.  Bewilderment has always seemed to me a kind of threshold to a state of grace – Dante was literally ‘bewildered’, lost in the dark forest, that liminal land of trees and shadows where knights fall asleep by streams and voices call and, upon awakening, a new world begins. Not all who are bewildered are lost.

Of course, the word itself has largely lost its poetry, but I would still rather be bewildered than confused or simply lost, neither of which promise any delicious possibilities. 

bewilder (v.) Look up bewilder at Dictionary.com1680s, from be- “thoroughly” + archaic wilder “lead astray, lure into the wilds,” probably a back-formation of wilderness. An earlier word with the same sense was bewhape(early 14c.). Related: Bewildered; bewildering; bewilderingly.

As you can see from my beloved OED, bewildered replaced the even more exotic bewhape, an ancient verb form, which perhaps (I theorize) evolved from ‘hap’, from Old Norse ‘happ,’ luck or chance (to be ‘hapless’ is to be without luck) – and thus, if one enters into chance, one is led into bewilderment.

I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” Daniel Boone

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About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist
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