Hookwink icon Hoodwink

Thomas Hood (1799-1845) was a British poet, novelist, editor and essayist.1 He is best know for his humorous writings, but he also wrote many serious works; in fact, one of the best-know social-protest poems is his "The Song of the Shirt."

Early in his career Hood published The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827), his only attempt to achieve recognition as a literary poet. It received mild critical praise, but it was not a popular success. Thereafter, he earned his living primarily as a writer of comic prose and poetry. He had an exceptional ability to manipulate words -- creating rhymes and puns, striking metaphors and memorable phrases. Hood was a master of the visual and verbal pun and he became one of the most popular British humorists of the 19th century.

Hood also published works of satire and social protest, many of which were included among the humorous pieces in his Comic Annuals. In these Hood wrote about the abuses in the apprenticeship system, the deplorable conditions of the workhouses and prisons, the exploitation of industrial and agricultural laborers, mistreatment of child and female workers, slums, inadequate education, the displacement of workers by machines, a biased judicial system and religious hypocrisy. Hood was no saint; he shared some of the prejudices of the society of the time. But he was a tolerant and empathetic man who shunned "isms."

Visual Puns

illustration of a pun

Hood's visual pun is based on inverting the adage "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Here the whole of the boy cannot pass through the hole in the window because one of his parts is greater than the hole.

Verbal Puns

In the poem "The Irish Schoolmaster" Hood puns verbally on whole and hole.

   This College looketh South and West alsoe,
   Because it hath a cast in windows twain;
   Crazy and crack'd they be, and wind doth blow
   Through transparent holes in every pane,
   Which Dan, with many paines, makes whole again,2

The poem is about Dan, a teacher at a poor rural Irish school ("College"). It's deliberately written is an older style of diction (looketh, hath, and so on). Cast refers to a visual problem in which one eye looks in a different direction from the other; thus, the windows of the school look South and West. Sound puns are made on holes and whole and pane and paines. There is also an inclusive statement pun on paines: the repair will require both much effort ("many paines") and many panes of glass. The phrase "transparent holes" (in transparent window panes) is clever and humorous.3

In "Shooting Pains" a hunter is unable to find game:

   A rabbit I should not despise,
   But they lurk in their burrows so lowly;
      This day's the eleventh,
      It is not the seventh,
   But they seem to be keeping it hole-y.4

By remaining in their burrows on the day the hunter is searching for game (the 11th day of the month) the rabbits keep it hole-y. Of course, it's the 7th day of the week, the Sabbath, that is usually kept holy.

Hood's "The Great Conflagration" is a collection of accounts of what people did when Parliament was burned. Roger Davis writes to inform his employer that the servants buried his plate (valuable gold- and silver-plated household articles) to protect it from looters, but,

... owen to our hurry and allarm, the spot ware the plait was berrid went out of our heads. We have sinse dug up the hole srubbery, but without turnin up anny thing in its shape.

They create many holes by digging up "the hole" (the whole of the) shrubbery.5

Thomas Hood was a humorist, a social critic and an expert at punning and word play. Many of his serious writings are still relevant. His humorous pieces still amuse. Few writers were as good as Hood at combining both comic and serious material in the same poem or prose piece. The body of Hood's work taken as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Hoodwink is an old name for the game of Blind-Man's Buff (also called Blind-Man's Buffet, Blind-Man's Bluff and Hoodwink Blind) in which a blindfolded player tries to capture or tag the other players.

Centuries ago to wink meant to close both eyes for a time, not one briefly (thus, forty winks). To hookwink someone was to wink them with a hood, to prevent them from seeing by placing a hood over their heads -- a tactic employed by gamesters, thieves and executioners. Today, we use hoodwink figuratively: to deceive or trick someone; to pull the wool over their eyes.

Buff means "to push or shove" (buffet).

You do not wear a blindfold when playing Hoodwink, but in addition to earning points by forming words on the board you can increase your score by capturing tiles.

You don't capture as in checkers (draughts) by jumping over pieces, nor as in chess by occupying the same square as another piece. Instead, you capture in a manner similar to how it's done in the game of Reversi in which you flank pieces.

When you form a new word by placing new letters on both sides of one or more tile(s) (left/right or above/below) already on the board, the tile(s) are captured (removed from the board, rather than flipped).

Your score is increased by the letter-points of the new word you form and by the letter-points of the captured letters which go into your personal captured-letters pool. When you use all seven tiles in your tray to form a word (sometimes call a bingo), the total points for the play are doubled.

When your tray is refilled after a move or an exchange, the letters are drawn randomly from the common-letters pool and your captured-letters pool. Because they're chosen randomly, there is no way to predict which letters will be chosen from which pool.

game board

Assume HOLE is on the board.

game board

You place W to the left and S to the right of HOLE to form the word WHOLES. (You could also play CHOLER, THOLES or DHOLES.) You will earn 12 points for the new word WHOLES and 7 points for the captured letters H, O, L and E for a total of 19 points.

game board

The letters H, O, L and E are removed from the board and put into your captured-letters pool. HOLE is removed leaving a hole and WHOLES is no longer whole. (Hoodwink is a pun on Thomas Hood's name.)

Capturing increases your score and gives you more letters to play with. If at the end of a game the common-letters pool and your opponent's captured-letters pool are empty, but your captured-letters pool is not, you continue to play increasing your score.

More About Hood

See also

Quick Intro to Hoodwink

A Short Introduction to the Pun

A Modest Defense of the Pun

Visual Puns


1All of Hoods works can be downloaded at no cost in PDF and various ebook formats from the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/details/texts). Collections of and selections from Hood's works may be available at booksellers and libraries.

2"The Irish Schoolmaster," Whims and Oddities, 3rd ed. (London: Lupton Relfe, 1828), 121-132.

3Hood also uses the phrase "transparent holes" in "A Storm at Hastings," The Comic Annual, 2nd ed. (London, Charles Tilt, 1830), 65-77.

4"Shooting Pains, The Comic Annual (London, Charles Tilt, 1833), 38.

5"The Great Conflagration," The Comic Annual (London: A. H. Baily and Co., 1835), 61.