17 March 2014

The Slippery History of Gobbledygook

In his column on language for the American Scholar last year, Ralph Keyes described how Maury Maverick coined the word “gobbeldygook”:
While heading a government office in the mid-1940s, the former Texas congressman grew weary of the inflated verbiage he confronted daily among the many bureaucrats who had flocked to Washington during World War II. What to call their windy rhetoric?

As Maverick later recalled in a New York Times article, it reminded him of “the old bearded turkey gobbler back in Texas who was always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity. At the end of his gobble there was a sort of gook.” Maverick had his word.

In a memo he advised staff members to “stay off the gobbledygook language,” which he defined as “talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words.” The Texan’s coinage quickly wended its way into the national vocabulary, where it has remained ever since.

(Maverick’s origin story may have been a bit disingenuous. In his time gobbledygoo was slang for fellatio.)
But Maverick and his “gobbeldygook” were necessary enough to make the papers in 1944. Michael Quinion’s similar World Wide Words report on the term is here.

1 comment:

Gail Gauthier said...

Many years ago, I worked for a federally funded department that was part of a state agency. We actually discussed gobbledygook. At that time, you'd hear concerns about it on programs like 60 Minutes. I haven't heard anyone remark on it in a long time.