A friend of mine asked me to consult my Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on the word “fake.” He did not tell me why. The OED is a magnificent 13 volume work of English scholarship that gives the first known usage of a word and then traces the changes in meaning. For example, the first usage of the word “Lord” was “Hlafweard” which meant loaf-warden or loaf-guardian. The OED traces the way the meaning changed as well as the pronunciation evolution.
So, I looked up the word “fake” for my friend. Even though there is a Germanic word, “fegen” that meant to sweep or thrash, the OED claims an obscure origin for “fake.” The work speculates that it may be Native American, as Captain John Smith used the word in 1607 to mean a fold or coil of rope. It was not until the middle of the 19th Century that the word was used in the sense in which we use it, as in “theatrical fake.”
How could a word that meant fold become something that meant being false or hypocritical? Well, maybe we can be faked out by folds because one is just like the other. Or, similarly, maybe coils of rope all look alike and one can be a false version of the other. Or, and this is admittedly a wild speculation, maybe the fold in a theater curtain came to represent theatrical fakes, or actors as we would call them.
Anyway, I started thinking about fakes and hypocrites. What is it to be one? I suppose it is looking one way on the outside and being another way on the inside. When I was learning to drive the big military trucks in Germany, one of my shotgun riders, Thornton, noticed that I was being extremely cautious and nervous. He said, “Ford, just fake it. Act like you know what you are doing and you will be able to drive this thing like a pro.” I took his advice, and the fake became the real. So, at least in that case, I suppose being a kind of hypocrite was more or less non-blameworthy.
In the same way, when I started teaching college classes at Auburn, I really did not know what I was doing. I had obviously observed a lot of college teachers, so I had a variety of role models to imitate, but I did not really know how to teach. So, I thought back to what Thornton told me about driving a truck. I acted like I had been teaching classes for years on end and the students seemed to believe it. I mean, I didn’t lie verbally, but my behavior misrepresented my inner insecurity. I gained confidence after I realized that the students did not know what was going on in my inner man.
It makes me think of Samuel of old. He was supposed to anoint a new king for Israel, because old King Saul had been disobedient. He was sent to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem, a man with eight sons. He knew one of them was to be king but he didn’t know which one. When the first one came out, he looked every inch a king, so Samuel wanted to anoint him. But the Lord let him know that He looked on the inside, not like men who look on the outside. At length, Samuel anointed little David, a ruddy shepherd boy who looked nothing like a king at that point. You can’t tell a book by its cover.