World Wide Words logo

Gobemouche

Pronounced /gɔbəmuʃ/Help with IPA

English borrowed this potentially useful word from French about two centuries ago, though it has long since abandoned it again. A search of newspaper archives suggests that it’s used nowadays merely as a rare word with which to stump contestants in US spelling bees.

The French continue to use it, hyphenated, for the bird that we call a flycatcher, appropriately so since it is made up of gober, to swallow, and mouche, a fly. In French it also means a credulous person who accepts everything said to him as the plain truth.

Only the latter sense came over into English:

These people are great gobemouches; they always report the most incredible things.

Travels in the Great Desert of Sahara, in the Years of 1845 and 1846, by James Richardson, 1848.

The inescapable image is of a naive individual thunderstruck by the world around him, perpetually open-mouthed in astonishment and ready to swallow whatever came his way, whether flies or tall tales. This sense of the word is said to have been popularised in French through a play of 1759 by Charles Favart, La Soirée des Boulevards, which featured a character named Gobemouche.

It’s tempting to see a connection between gobemouche and gob, that infelicitous monosyllable which has been a British dialect and slang term for the mouth since the sixteenth century. The latter is most likely from the Gaelic and Irish word for a beak or mouth; if so, then there’s indeed a link, as the French gober originated in the related pre-Roman Celtic tongue called Gaulish.

Page created 3 Dec. 2011

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gob3.htm
Last modified: 3 December 2011.