Posted by James Briggs on April 19, 2002
In Reply to: Tomfool posted by ESC on April 19, 2002
: : : It is also the Cockney rhyming slang for jewellery. Like most rhyming slang it then gets shortened to Tom
: : One of those opening statement posts, rather than a question. A word of caution though, for those who might attempt a little Dick Van Dyck if in London. Tomfoolery does indeed mean jewellery, and is often shortened to tom, as in "that's a nice bit of old tom she's got round her neck". However, also shortened to tom is the far less pleasant piece of Cockney rhyming slang, a "tom tit", meaning a bowel movement, except a tad more pithily expressed (excuse the unfortunate phrase). So the moral is, be cautious when in the East End of London.
: TOMFOOL - "A clumsy, witless fool, fond of stupid practical jokes. Hence 'tomfoolery.'" From "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).
I have never found an origin for the use of 'Tom' in this context, unlike 'Jack' - 'jack of all trades, jack frost, jack tar' etc. This comes from the old French tradition of the upper classes naming every peasant 'Jacques'. This then, centuries ago, spread to Britain or, more particularly, England