Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

The origin of “tool” use


I always thought that the word “tool”, used to mean a fool easily manipulated, particularly by advertising or consumer marketing (though more recent usages have veered closer to “unfashionable” for those who don’t believe they follow fashions) was a recent neologism, derived from the 1960s phrase “capitalist tool”. The capitalist tool was the pendant to the “commie symp”, and there’s a nice parallelism in the way “tool” rhymes with “fool” (which rhymes with “pool”) and “symp” is like “simp”.

I just happened across a piece of 1760s political doggerel in Robert Middlekauf’s history of the American Revolution, an attack on Massachusetts state representative James Otis, Jr., called Jemmibullero:

And Jemmy is a silly dog, and Jemmy is a tool,

And Jemmy is a stupid curr, and Jemmy is a fool.

And Jemmy is a madman, and Jemmy is an ass,

And Jemmy has a leaden head and forehead spread with brass.

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