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Gobs is a word I've never seen in print; however, I've heard it used in an old moving picture and in an old situation comedy. I'm curious to know the origin of the word gobs as well as when it was first used to mean a copious amount.

I heard it used in the 1930 moving picture Ladies of Leisure when Marie Prevost is ordering a meal at a restaurant and tells the server she'd like "gobs of cheese" on her dish (I believe it was cheese). The next time I heard it used was in an episode of Three's Company "Ground Rules" which aired in 1977. Jack Tripper is with a young lady at the Regal Beagle and tells her "we can have gobs of fun here."

Those are the two examples I have for hearing gobs used to mean a copious amount. Any ideas for why gobs is slang for a copious amount and any ideas as to when it was first used or which decade/decades it was most popular.

  • 'Why' is a difficult question to answer. It just is. Or rather all there is to the explanation might be a history. It's not a reason for the path, just what the path is. Maybe you want to know why 'gobs' (as in 'a lot of') is similar sounding to 'gob' as in 'mouth'. That is (possibly) an answerable question. – Mitch Jun 15 '14 at 22:04
  • It should be noted that "gob" is also a term of, uh, indistinction for a sailor. – Hot Licks Sep 7 '15 at 21:46
  • (I can certainly attest that "Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts" has been popular with a certain audience since the 50s, at least.) – Hot Licks Sep 7 '15 at 21:47
  • @HotLicks I find it very hard to believe that gopher guts—of any description, however alliterative—are popular with any non-scavenger audience… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '15 at 19:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Not even 13-year-old males? – Hot Licks Sep 8 '15 at 22:36
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gob, gobs n.

Informal A large quantity. Often used in the plural: a gob of money; gobs of time.

It seems that the word has Gaulish (Celtic) origins {The Online Etymology Dictionary:Gob{2}(n.)}:

"a mouthful, lump," late 14c., probably from Old French gobe "mouthful, lump," related to gober "gulp, swallow down," probably from Gaulish *gobbo- (compare Irish gob "mouth," Gaelic gob "beak"). This Celtic source also seems to be root of gob "mouth" (mid-16c.), which is the first element in gob-stopper "a kind of large hard candy" (1928).

Google Ngram shows an increasing usage of the expression gobs of since the beginning of the 20th century.

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350–1400; Middle English gobbe, variant of gobet gobbet...

...where gobbet: 1275–1325; Middle English gobet < Old French: a mouthful, diminutive of gobe.

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Although previous answers may have suggested that this is not the case, there is actually no accepted etymology for the colloquial word gob (also, gab) "mouth". Skeat (on page 238 of An etymological dictionary of the English language https://archive.org/stream/etymologicaldict00skeauoft#page/238/mode/2up) stated baldly that "the provincial English gob, the mouth, is borrowed from Celtic directly". He was referring ultimately to an lrish word, gop, which is defined by the Dictionary of the Irish language as "muzzle, snout, beak".

An alternative derivation suggests itself when we examine the distribution map of dialect words for the notion mouth in Orton and Wright's "A Word Geography of England" (a work based on the Survey of English Dialects), where we see that the word "gob" is found in Yorkshire, County Durham, Westmoreland, the northern parts of Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, and in an area of Norfolk, i.e. almost exactly the Danelaw area.

This suggests that, as an alternative to the Celtic hypothesis, we should seek a Scandinavian origin for the word. And we don't have to look far, as one of the terms for the notion "mouth" in modern Danish is the word "gab". Hence it was surely Scandinavian settlers who brought the words gob and gab to England. Cognates also exist in modern Swedish and modern Norwegian "gap", and this is the form the word had in Old Norse, the period we should assume the word was introduced to England. The nouns gob and gab are related to the modern English verb gape, (gapen in Middle English) which refers to the mouth, and is recorded as early as c. 1225. It's also been linked to the Old Norse verb "gapa" in the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.

  • Hello, bigbaddwolff. Could you please add the attribution for and a hotlink to the Skeat quote(?) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 8 '15 at 19:47
  • I felt that there was a contradiction when I read this:"there is actually no accepted etymology for the colloquial word gob" and then this: "it was surely Scandinavian settlers who brought the words gob and gab to England." If there's no accepted etymology, why present this presumably speculative one as a sure thing? – sumelic Sep 8 '15 at 19:47
  • Your proposed etymology is not without its problems. First off, there’s the question of the vowel: where did English get its o from, when the Nordic languages all unanimous have a throughout (nowhere in the entire complex of words derived from the root found in the gape verb is there an o in any Norse languages, as far as I know)? And secondly, where did English get its b from? The voicing of the /p/ to /b/ in Danish postdates attestations of the word (with /b/) in English, and Danish (+ some Norwegian dialects) is the only Nordic language to have a b at all there. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '15 at 19:51
  • Let me recant part of that: gob is attested in English with a ⟨b⟩ before the time when gap became gab in Danish, but only in the sense ‘mass/lump’, which is from Old French. The ‘mouth’ sense is later than the Danish voicing of postvocalic /p/ to /b/, but this voicing still happened a good deal after the Danelaw ceased to exist and Danish was replaced by Norman French as the major influence on English vocabulary. At the time of the Danelaw, it would still have been gap in Danish, which is a fair bit from gob in English (not attested until about four centuries later). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '15 at 20:10
  • Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that (at least Modern) Irish also has geab (also gab) meaning ‘talk, chatter’, which fits very well with the English word gab, attested since the 1800s. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '15 at 20:52

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