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It’s a wonderful word, one of the best of the exotics that came out of North America in the nineteenth century. It’s still to be found, though you’re likely to encounter it in the company of the Corpse Reviver, the Fogcutter, the Monkey Gland and the Widow’s Kiss.

The original alamagoozlum was maple syrup. The name may have been a blend of French-Canadian and American terms, since it’s conjectured it was created from à la (as in à la mode) and goozlum, with a ma thrown in to make it bounce better in the mouth. The goozlum or goozle was the throat, windpipe or Adam’s apple, possibly a variant form of guzzle.

The word was rarely recorded in the old days. The Bradford Era of Pennsylvania in 1888 did its best to confuse unwary etymologists by composing a ditty that included the lines, “From Alamagoozlum / To Kalamazoo, / We can bamboozle ‘em!”

Today, alamagoozlum is almost entirely the province of those well-informed mixologists who know their old-style cocktails. Charles H Baker recorded it in 1939 in The Gentleman’s Companion or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. It’s not a drink for the faint-hearted, either to create or consume, since it includes Chartreuse, gin, Jamaican rum, orange curaçao, egg whites, Angostura bitters, and a big dollop of syrup. Curiously, none of the recipes that I’ve seen even mention maple syrup, the classic ingredient being gomme syrup (perhaps from French gomme or an old form of English gum), which is a mixture of a simple sugar syrup with gum arabic.

A reader, Mary Louise Lyman, recalled that her father referred to a stew or casserole of leftovers as a magoozlum. It isn’t common in print, but it is in The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler: “I’ve written twelve best-sellers, and if I ever finish that stack of magoozlum on the desk there I may possibly have written thirteen.” It has been defined as hooey, nonsense, tosh, tripe, twaddle or tommy-rot. Etymologists have suggested it may derive from the cartoon character Mr Magoo or from magoo, Hollywood slang for the gooey insides of custard pies (the throwing sort), but it seems at least as likely that it’s a shortening of alamagoozlum.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Feb. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ala1.htm
Last modified: 25 February 2012.