gobbledegook

“Gobbledegook” was coined in the 1940s in the US and, for a change, we know exactly where it came from! It means the pompous talk of officialdom, long, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words. Synonyms are: jargon, pretentious verbiage, nonsense, and bafflegab.

The word was coined by US Representative Maury Maverick (grandson of Sam Maverick, whose habit of not branding his cows gave us “maverick” meaning “independent”). Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who was at various times a Democratic Congressman and mayor of San Antonio, was overseeing factory production during WWII, and described the double-talk and jargon he was encountering from government officials as “gobbledygook.” The word was an instant hit. His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.” And, in one inspired moment, he gave us the perfect word for the sound a bureaucracy makes.

Maverick first used the word in a memo dated March 30, 1944, banning “gobbledygook language” and mock-threatening, “anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.”

The term “gobbledygook” has a long history of usage in politics. Nixon’s Oval Office tape from June 14, 1971, showed H. R. Haldeman describing a situation to Nixon as “… a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say.” 

President Ronald Reagan explained tax law revisions in an address to the nation with the word, May 28, 1985, saying that “most didn’t improve the system; they made it more like Washington itself: Complicated, unfair, cluttered with gobbledygook and loopholes designed for those with the power and influence to hire high-priced legal and tax advisers.”

Michael Shanks, former chairman to the National Consumer Council of Great Britain, characterizes professional gobbledygook as sloppy jargon intended to confuse nonspecialists: “‘Gobbledygook’ may indicate a failure to think clearly, a contempt for one’s clients, or more probably a mixture of both. A system that can’t or won’t communicate is not a safe basis for a democracy.”

Stephen Pinker used it brilliantly: “Academics in the softer fields dress up the trivial and obvious with the trappings of scientific sophistication, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.”

Having been an accountant, and also having chased a good many turkeys, complaining loudly, out of a vegetable garden, I know that they sound exactly like the Income Tax Act reads. Both hurt my head.

  One thought on “gobbledegook

  1. Licette N J How
    April 15, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Lea- I love reading these sayings, and am often surprised at the origin of them. I wrongly thought they were all from my mother country. Oh well!

    Like

    • April 15, 2020 at 8:12 am

      I understand! Often I’m surprised about word origins, too. Many do come from Britain (which is where my ancestors lived), but quite a few do not.

      Like

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