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Gobbledygook

Pronounced /ˈɡɒb(ə)ldɪˌɡʊk/Help with pronunciation

This is a truly maverick word, not only because it is surprisingly modern and also one whose genesis we can pin down to the day, but also because a maverick coined it —Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who was at various times a Democratic Congressman and mayor of San Antonio.

He used the word in the New York Times Magazine on 21 May 1944, while he was chairman of the US Smaller War Plants Committee in Congress, as part of a complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues. His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity”. It met a clear need for a word with which to castigate unintelligible language, especially jargon or bureaucratese, and quickly became part of the language. It is sometimes abbreviated slightly to gobbledygoo.

Word coining runs in the Maverick family, since Maury Maverick’s grandfather, Samuel Maverick, a Texas rancher, was the inspiration for maverick, originally an animal not branded to identify its owner (because Sam Maverick didn’t brand his own herds), later an unconventional person, and later still a politician who stands aside from the herd, refusing to conform to the party line.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 May 2002

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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.
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Last modified: 4 May 2002.