20 of the Best ‘Deluded’ Synonyms

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

To ‘delude’ someone is to trick, cheat, or deceive them, although the word’s origins are interesting. It’s derived from the prefix de- and the Latin verb lūdere meaning ‘to play’: the same root which also gave us interlude, allusion, and even the game, Ludo (meaning ‘I play’).

This explains why to delude originally meant (as the OED defines it) ‘To play with (any one) to his injury or frustration, under pretence of acting seriously; to mock, esp. in hopes, expectations, or purposes; to cheat or disappoint the hopes of.’

Something of the word’s etymology, and its initial meaning, survives in our modern use of the word delude: to trick or deceive someone is, in a sense, to play with them, to steer them in the wrong direction, to put them off the scent, to convince them to believe something that is not true.

But of course, the word deluded can be used to mean more than just that: someone can delude themselves, and simply be deluded about something. Let’s take a look at some of the best synonyms for ‘deluded’.

‘Deluded’ synonyms

Although delude implies that some sinister or mischievous force is seeking to deceive or cheat us, deluded can simply be used to mean MISTAKEN: if you’re mistaken about the matter then that’s the same as saying you’re deluded, although ‘mistaken’ is often used about something less significant or far-reaching.

(For instance, deluded might be too strong a word for telling someone they are mistaken about what time the shops shut tonight, but if they’re mistaken about their chances of winning the lottery you might well employ the word deluded for that poor individual.)

A couple of terms which reflect this, and carry stronger weight than simply mistaken, are SADLY MISTAKEN and SORELY MISTAKEN, where the addition of the adverb puts the word mistaken more on a par with a strong term like deluded. So someone might be mistaken about the price of milk in their local shop but sorely mistaken about the price of a new high-speed rail system the government is investing in.

Like mistaken, CONFUSED serves as a good synonym for deluded, in that it also suggests someone who has arrived at an incorrect opinion or belief.

However, it obviously implies, in addition, that there may be some ambiguity in the person’s mind about what they believe, so it’s not an exact synonym. Someone who is deluded because they think everyone is out to get them probably sounds pretty convinced by their false (paranoid) belief, whereas someone confused may not be sure, even if they suspect everyone is after them.

But given that the verb to delude implies someone doing the cheating or tricking, many other deluded synonyms reflect this, and suggest FOOLED, DUPED, GULLED, TRICKED, CHEATED, or OUTFOXED.

BAMBOOZLED is a more jocular way of conveying the same thing, although nobody knows quite where the word comes from. It turned up in the English language in around 1700, along with a host of other slang words which were quickly in vogue; Jonathan Swift mentioned it, alongside mob and banter, as among the new words coined by ‘pretty fellows’ at around this time. Bamboozle may be from Scots, but we cannot say for sure.

Meanwhile, HOODWINKED is from the act of covering someone’s (or one’s own) eyes with a hood, such as in parlour games like blind man’s buff. If you’ve been hoodwinked you’ve been deprived of sight, much as the (figuratively) ‘hoodwinked’ person is unable to see an issue clearly or approach it rationally.

Such a motif is also there in BLINKERED, a near-synonym for deluded which means ‘having a limited outlook’ on something; the term is from blinkers, the name for the leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle on each side, to prevent the animal from seeing in any direction except straight ahead.

Sticking with horses for a moment … COZENED is another way of saying cheated or, if you will, DECEIVED over a particular matter. The origins of cozened are uncertain, though one theory is that it’s derived from the Italian cozzonare, which means ‘to act like a horse-breaker’, i.e., to schmooze someone in order to gain their trust gradually in order to deceive or swindle them, much as someone breaking in horses gains their trust. (In Italian, cozzone refers to both a horse-courser and a ‘crafty knave’.)

And then there’s HOAXED, a word whose origins are uncertain, though it’s believed to be a contraction of hocus, a verb meaning to cheat someone. Hocus itself is from hocus pocus, which, according to John Tillotson in 1694, was a corruption or imitation of the words from the Latin mass, hoc est corpus, i.e., ‘here is the body [of Christ]’:

In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.

Although we cannot be entirely sure that Tillotson’s theory is correct, we can be sure that hoaxed means cheated or, if you will, deluded.

A couple of other mis- words complement mistaken and can be used synonymously with deluded: MISLED and MISGUIDED. Both are obviously derived from the idea of leading or guiding someone astray.


To conclude this selection of deluded synonyms, let’s consider a pair of colloquial phrases which convey a similar sense to misled and misguided.

They are LED UP THE GARDEN PATH and STRUNG ALONG. Nobody’s quite sure where the first of these originated, though the OED only records it from 1923. Quite why leading someone up the garden path should become associated with deceit isn’t obvious.

As for strung along, that’s been around since at least 1902, and although its origins aren’t entirely clear, one theory is that it comes from tuning a stringed instrument, which is akin to preparing someone for some grand deceit – much like the theory about cozen mentioned above.

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