tom·​fool·​ery ˌtäm-ˈfül-rē How to pronounce tomfoolery (audio)
: playful or foolish behavior

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In the Middle Ages, Thome Fole was a name assigned to those perceived to be of little intelligence. This eventually evolved into the spelling tomfool, which, when capitalized, also referred to a professional clown or a buffoon in a play or pageant. The name Tom seems to have been chosen for its common-man quality, much like Joe Blow for an ordinary person or Johnny Reb for a soldier in the Confederate army, but tomfoolery need not apply strictly to actions by men. In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), for example, Marilla Cuthbert complains of Anne: "She's gadding off somewhere with Diana, writing stories or practicing dialogues or some such tomfoolery, and never thinking once about the time or her duties."

Examples of tomfoolery in a Sentence

There was a lot of tomfoolery going on behind the scenes. the open bar may have had something to do with the tomfoolery at the wedding reception
Recent Examples on the Web The props for the tomfooleries are nowhere to be found. Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Harper's Magazine, 9 Dec. 2021 Most of my work is just tomfoolery, but occasionally, I’m called upon for more earnest projects. Irv Erdos, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Apr. 2023 Can Wait-esque tomfoolery. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 17 June 2021 Every weekday, Total Request Live (TRL) commingled the anticipation of a top-ten countdown with the tomfoolery of celebrity guests. Hazlitt, 4 May 2022 Even the republic was set to Year One, eschewing religious tomfoolery. Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, 4 Mar. 2023 Resurrecting the tomfoolery of Dogberry (Wesley Mann), the doddering, malaprop-ridden constable of the town, and his bungling associates, is a herculean challenge. Charles McNultytheater Critic, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feb. 2023 Blockchain analytics firm Chainanalysis reported that criminals stole $14 billion worth of crypto last year through various hacks, scams, and tomfoolery. Jacob Carpenter, Fortune, 30 Mar. 2022 In fact, millions of hours are generated from content that’s not centered around competing at all but around commentary, industry news, game reviews, walkthroughs and instructionals, gamers’ lifestyles, and general hijinks and tomfoolery. Lee Trink, Rolling Stone, 28 May 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tomfoolery.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


tomfool entry 1 + -ery, after foolery

First Known Use

1812, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tomfoolery was in 1812


Dictionary Entries Near tomfoolery

Cite this Entry

“Tomfoolery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


tom·​fool·​ery täm-ˈfül-(ə-)rē How to pronounce tomfoolery (audio)
: playful or foolish behavior
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