Monday, June 20, 2011

Buffaloed

I would be curious how the word buffalo evolved to mean bamboozled. Maybe the sight of the buffalo in early American history was a bewildering site, the massiveness of the beast and the sheer quantity. Maybe it's because the "b" word has siblings like "bluff" and "beguile." The rest of the synonyms for buffalo include the rest of the alphabet, from fake out, delude, con and hoodwink to snooker, spoof and trick.

All in all, I have been snookered a few times. Seems we're especially vulnerable when we have the least to lose. Hence I once wrote an article in the 1980's called "Look Before You Leap" which dealt with business opportunity scams. A 21st century version of these scams would include the email from Nigeria in which someone needs to get 25 million dollars out of the country and you will get half if you help. Why people fall for such guff is beyond me, but we do.

Two stories from my college days came to mind this morning. The first from my sophomore year at Ohio U in Athens. I'd gone upstairs to the girl's section of the coed dorm to see a friend and there was this young man there in Audrey's room, holding court. He was very engaging, affable, and spoke with a British accent. Turns out he was with the group Fleetwood Mac, or so he claimed, and had a week to travel about the country. Audrey was most swept away on his magic carpet tales of travels with the band. I guess for at least one night he was a rock star.

Turns out he was a kid just blowing smoke. Fake Brit accent, the kid was just funnin' us uncritical dupes.

A couple years later I was living in a coffee house and befriended a hitchhiker passing through Athens. Seemed like a nice guy who needed a place to stay. As we talked I learned he was Billy Graham's nephew, though he had been something of the black sheep of the family before he came around. I asked the guys if he could stay with use for a couple days, which they all assented to. The following day he was gone. And so was all the money we'd been setting aside in the cookie jar atop the fridge for some worthy cause. Once again we'd been buffaloed.

Lying is a strange thing. The victims of lies become victims by trusting. In fact, our whole culture exists on the foundations of trust. I go to work this morning believing I will be paid for my labors in two weeks. I but a book on Amazon.com believing it will show up in ten days. The lie causes us to be wary, to be suspicious. It's bad for relationships, and it's bad when governments do it, too.

As we grow older, we dislike being so gullible that we are played for a fool. But we also can't become so jaded that no one's word can be taken straight up.

Just a word to the wise.

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