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Masonic terms that are now in everyday language

Masonic terms that are now in everyday language

If you are a Freemason you will already recognise these Masonic terms that are now in everyday language, and have been appropriated into everyday life.  Or maybe it’s been more subconscious, you didn’t realise that not everyone knows what they mean! If you are considering joining Freemasonry, then maybe you don’t (and also any of the lodges in our Portfolio would be pleased to speak with you). If you need a website for your Masonic Lodge then please get in touch with us via the contact page

Hoodwinked film - Masonic terms that are now in everyday language

What does being Hoodwinked mean?

 If you are looking for Masonic terms that are now in everyday language, being hoodwinked if one of the most common.  There are even a series of films called Hoodwinked! . What does being hoodwinked mean? – It means to trick or deceive someone. “He was hoodwinked into yang way more than the car was worth but that salesman” 

In a Masonic lodge, it’s a very old term used to describe a blindfold.It means “cover,” and also “closed eye.”

While being led through portions of the three degrees in the Masonic lodge, the candidate is prevented from seeing certain features of the room until the proper time in the ceremony, to focus his attention on the words he is hearing, and to symbolize the search for knowledge. 

So effectively if you re being conned, you are being blindfolded against the truth, you have been hoodwinked. 

The Third Degree – Masonic explanation

This is a term we hear a lot, probably the most common example of a Masonic term that is now in everyday language.  The 3rd is the highest degree or level of ceremony conferred in a Masonic lodge. It’s known as the Master Mason degree; the two that come before it are the Entered Apprentice and the Fellow Craft degrees. You may encounter other Masonic degrees that have higher numbers, bestowed by some other branches within Freemasonry, but they are not more important or of any higher rank than the Master Mason. This is a common misconception, a 33rd degree Mason in York Rite is no higher rank than a 3rd degree Master Mason.  What does the third degree mean? – It means to reach the top, but explicitly to have the most pressure put upon someone because it is the highest level. “The police really gave him the 3rd degree, but he refused to crack under their questioning”

In everyday life it can means to really question someone, an possibly use torture.  Wikipedia has this as the main explanation, “inflicting of pain, physical or mental, to extract confessions or statements” with a small reference to the Masonic variation.  Often used within a military or police context, but also when you really question someone about what happened.  The implication is that you will stop at nothing to get to the truth

3rd degree burns are also the worst burns that you can get. The “highest” form on burn, the worst form. 

So effectively it means that you are doing everything to get to the bottom of something, the 3rd degree of questioning. 

On the Level – Freemasonry explanation

In everyday life as the Collins dictionary explains “on the level as” – “If you say that someone or something is on the level, you mean that they are sincere or honest, and are not attempting to deceive people”

For example – “There were probably moments when you wondered if anyone spoke the truth or was on the level”. Or I liked him, he seemed an honest guy, he was really on the level”

To a Freemason, being on the Level means just that — all Freemasons are Brothers who meet on the same level, regardless of their social or economic status outside the lodge. Princes, presidents, and captains of business are no better or more important than bus drivers, plumbers, and paper boys when they sit in the Lodge together. Masonry does not detract from a man’s accomplishments, nor does it exalt him above his Brothers because of his position outside the lodge. 

So it means that people are of equal status, they are on a level. 

On the Square – Masonic explanation

A very common phrase in everyday life, and one with no other explanation than having come from the Masonic fraternity – Freedictionary says – To act and speak honestly, without hiding information. For example “My daughter’s fiance is a very respectable fellow, and his actions are always on the square”

What does on the Square mean to a Freemason? If someone is said to be “On the Square” then they are a Freemason.  There is even a Freemasonry magazine called The Square. Freemasons sometimes greet other men with ” are you on the square?” if they have reasonable resaon to think another man is a fellow Freemason.  “I saw that fellow in Lodge, so he’s definitely on the square”

But what has this masonic term become used in everyday language? It’s Masonic explanation is that when a stonemason cuts a block to use in the construction of a building, it must be perfectly shaped so that it will support the other blocks that surround it. The block’s sides must all be perfectly straight with no faults, so that it will do its part as just one small piece of a much larger building. To check the reliability of his workmanship, the stonemason uses a tool called shaped like a right angle, to determine whether the sides and angles of the stone are perfect. 

Freemasons use the term to describe their trust in each other. A man who is on the square is honest and reliable, and is a strong part of the whole community around him. Just like the blocks cut by the stonemason are a strong part of the building they are part of. 

So it means that an honest man can be relied upon, just like a perfectly cut block off stone. 

Less well known, is a different use of the term where it is also used to mean “just between you and me.” When one Mason tells another Mason something he’d like to be kept private, he’ll often say “This is on the square.”  The masonic explanation is that unless another man is a Freemason he therefore won’t also be on the square. 

What is a Worshipful Master?

In Freemasonry the first/main officer of the Masonic lodge is called the Worshipful Master. This does not mean that Freemasons “worship” him. Another common misconception! The position is like that of a president in other organizations. The term comes from Old English and is used to mean “greatly honored.” Mayors of English and Canadian cities are still referred to as “Your Worship.” Because Masonry has its origins in England during the Middle Ages, the term has been passed down through the centuries and has been retained.

He is the Worshipful Master means he is the leader/president or mayor of that organisation. 

So to be a Worshipful Master is to be in charge of your organisation (not in the work sense) 

Who or What is a Cowan?

One of the most important roles in a Masonic Lodge is that of the Tyler, whose job is to keep off all “cowans and eavesdroppers”. Ie to stop outsiders from listening to or interfering with the work of the Lodge.  Merriam-Webster defines a Cowan as “one who would pretend to Freemasonry or intrude upon its secrets.” 

The term is unusual and its origin is probably from a very old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “dog.”  It came to be a Scottish word used as a putdown to describe stonemasons who did not join the Freemasons guild, while the English used it to describe Masons who built rough stone walls without mortar and did not know the true secrets of Freemasonry.

You would use it in a sentence “that Cowan, he tried to pretend to be a Freemason as he though it would gain him money”

So to be a Cowan is similar to being a conman, a lair and a cheat. 

What is being Blackballed and what is the Freemasonry connection?

In the wider world, the term blackballed has come to mean anyone rejected from joining any organisation. For example country clubs, private members clubs or trade organisations “black ball a member” when a candidate is refused entry or membership. There is usually an implied negative reason or impropriety from the candidate. However the origin of the word relates to Freemasonry.

When Freemasons vote on a new member, they use a ballot box that contains white balls (for “yes”) and black balls (for “no”). Similar to many organisations.  The opening of the box is hidden from the view of the other members, and each Mason votes in secret. Voting against the election of a new member in a Masonic election has come to be called blackballing ,and its use has spread to the outside world as well. Because the blackballs are the “no” balls. These days, to prevent confusion while groping around in a little wooden box, the black pieces are now often cube-shaped, to avoid voting incorrectly by mistake. Alternatively the box is tilted so that members are clear which colour bar they will be selecting.  A member being blackballed is a very rare occurrence, and usually discussed before the meeting to avoid embarrassment. Let us know if you have ever seen this happen!! 

So in everyday life you would say “I don’t know why, but he’s clearly been blackballed from joining that golf club” 

So it means to be excluded from something you wish to be a part of

Masonic identification questions that are now well known

Some of the phrases used when two Masons meet and are trying to establish the others membership status have made their way to a greater or lesser degree into the modern lexicon and are good examples of Masonic terms that are now in everyday language. These can be freely found on he internet, and its really only a surprise that more people aren’t aware of them. 

  • “Are You a Traveling Man?”
  • “Whence come you and whither are you traveling?”
  • “I see you’ve traveled some,”
  • “Hello, Hiram,”
  • “Are you a Widow’s Son?”
  • More obscure is “How old is your Mother?”, a question that refers to the number of your home lodge.

We won’t give you the exact Masonic explanation as they can reveal too much, but we’ve heard at least 2 of these used in everyday conversation. Only 1 was reacted to, the other person remained blissfully aware of the real meaning behind this masonic term that was being used in everyday language 

If you know of any others that are in common usage then we’d be keen to hear them, especially if you are confident of the meaning!