Ever witnessed a ludicrous illusion or colluded as part of an international political conspiracy? Confused? Tim Bowen explains the connection with this diverting word of the week.

The word ludicrous, meaning 'absurd' or 'ridiculous', as in ‘What a ludicrous idea’ or ‘It is ludicrous to suggest he might be a spy’, is one of a number of words that ultimately derive from the Latin ludere, meaning ‘to play’. It is highly likely that ludicrous originally meant something like ‘playful’ or ‘done in sport’ and its current meaning indicates a shift from an association with play, or perhaps even the theatre, with the idea of being comical in some way, to the idea of being implausible in a stupid way.

Other words derived from the same root include illusion, which originally meant ‘mockery’ and collude, meaning ‘to work secretly with someone in order to do something dishonest’ but which originally meant ‘to play together’. When people collude, they often do so as part of a conspiracy, meaning this time not ‘playing together’ but ‘breathing together’. It might seem ludicrous but the meanings of words can change quite radically with the passing of time.