The phrase "have a gander" meaning "have a look" is common in the UK. (Also can be "have a goosey gander" or just "have a goosey".)

What is the origin/meaning of this phrase? I always assumed that it was Cockney rhyming slang, but I can't think of how it would work as rhyming slang (additionally cockney rhyming slang also has "butcher's" meaning "look", as a rhyme of "butcher's hook").

So why does have a gander mean have a look?

  • @mplungjan that refers to the etymology of the word only. The explanations for the slang term/phrase seem to differ. – Moogle Sep 29 '14 at 15:31
  • Most of the links on the page have the "crane the neck" in them – mplungjan Sep 29 '14 at 16:54
  • ...and, like most of the "out of the blue" etymologies, they're probably just-so stories. It could just as easily be a dialectical variant of wander with some semantic drift thrown in for good measure. – bye Sep 30 '14 at 2:49
up vote 1 down vote accepted

With regard to the origin of gander in the sense of "take a long look at," it's interesting to compare the definitions of gonder in Thomas Darlington, Folk-Speech of South Cheshire (1887) with the corresponding definitions in Robert Holland, A Glossary of Words Used in the County of Cheshire (1886)—just one year earlier.

From Darlington, Folk-Speech (1887):

Gonder, v.n. To stretch the neck like a gander, to stand at gaze. "What a't gonderin' theer fur?" ... (2) to ramble, walk heedlessly. "Wheer't tha gonderin' off to?"

From Holland, Glossary (1886):

GONDER, v. (1) to ramble in conversation, to become childish. W. CHES. (2) to go heedlessly. MID-CHES. "Wheer art gonderin to?"

So while Darlington and Holland agree as to the sense "walk or go heedlessly," they have quite different alternative meanings for the verb gonder.

Roger Wilbraham, An Attempt at a Glossary of Some Words Used in Cheshire, second edition (1826), published 60 years earlier, doesn't include an entry for gonder (or gander) at all, although it does have one for gander-month:

GANDER-MONTH, s. the month in which a man's wife is confined in lying in.

Egerton Leigh, A Glossary of Words Used in the Dialect of Cheshire (1877) essentially repeats Wilbraham's wording for gander-month and adds two entries for gonder:

GONDER, s.—A gooseberry. L.

GONDER s.—A gander. Also, a fool, "What a gonder thee art, Raphe!" L.

—but no verb forms of gonder.

Meanwhile, Georgina Jackson, Shropshire Word-book (1879) has this meaning of gonder as a verb:

GONDER (2) v. n. to mope about.—PULVERBATCH [near Shrewsbury] 'That fellow's good fur nuthin' but gonder about like a kimet ship ["dizzy sheep"].'

Also of interest is a discussion by "W. J. C." in [Manchester] City News Notes and Queries (March 5, 1881) of the meaning of gondering in South Cheshire and of differences between that district of Cheshire and the district north of it:

I fear MID-CHESHIRE [a correspondent to the newspaper] did not read my communication of the 12th with care, or he would have noticed that I stated distinctly the particular district in which the words I gave are used. I must therefore beg to state again that South Cheshire is the district to which I referred, and he writes from Mid-Cheshire. Now it is well known that dialect words are used in one part of a county that are never heard in another part. ... "Gondering," to wander heedlessly, is used with the same meaning in South Cheshire [as in Mid-Cheshire]; and "gonder," a noun, is applied to person, and signifies one who does not mind where he is going.

Thus, seven years before Darlington finds gonder being used in South Cheshire to mean "stretch the neck like a gander" and "stand at gaze," W. J. C. of South Cheshire, in discussing gondering, indicates no awareness of that usage.

But lest it appear that South Cheshire's gondering is a dead end on the road to "take a gander," Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary (1900) cites the Darlington definition as part of a longer subdefinition of gander:

7. To stretch the neck like a gander, to stand gazing, look foolish ; to use conceited airs and gestures.

Wright also cites a much earlier instance of a similar usage of the word, albeit one involving a different variant spelling: gaindering. The citation is to James Hogg, The Three Perils of Man (1822), a novel set on the Scottish/English border, which includes this dialogue:

"Poor tafferel ruined tawpies! What are ye gaun gaindering about that gate for, as ye didna ken whilk end o' ye were uppermost?"

"That's easily kend father. What has come ower ye? Hae ye seen a warlock that ye are gaping and glowring at sic a dismal rate?"

In this scene, a farmer has spotted a band of border rovers descending on his farmhouse, and he has rushed back to the house, where his daughters, surprised at his unexplained franticness, are not wandering about aimlessly but staring out the door.

The complication here is pointed out by John Jamieson, Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, volume 1 (1825):

To GAINDER, (g hard), v. n. To look foolish, Ettr. For. [Hogg quotation omitted] Supposed to signify, to look like a gander. But it is perhaps originally the same with GAINTER, q. v.

...

To GAINTER, v. n. To use conceited airs and gestures ; Gainterin', having the appearance of assuming conceited airs; Upp. Clydes.

Still, from the context of the Hogg quotation, it's fairly clear that the farmer's daughters have not gone to the gate conceitedly, but out of curiosity and alarm—and possibly with their necks craned. If so, the origin of gander in the sense of "stretching one's neck like a goose in order to stare at something" may be traced (as gainder) to 1822—sixty-five years before the South Cheshire origin (as gonder) cited by the Online Etymology Dictionary—unless (as is possible) Hogg's farmer meant gaindering in the sense of "wandering foolishly," a sense of the verb gander that the Online Etymology Dictionary dates to the 1680s. Wright, at any rate, doesn't attribute the "wandering foolishly" sense to gaindering in Hogg's dialogue.

The way geese move their neck to look around seems to be at the origin of this saying:

gander: from Etymonline.com

  • "take a long look," slang, 1886, from gander (n.) on the notion of craning one's neck like a goose; earlier it meant "to wander foolishly" (1680s). Related: Gandered; gandering.

Gander from (www.worldwidewords.org)

  • A quick, er, gander at the word’s history is illuminating. It seems the verb to gander in this sense is actually American in origin, something I find more than a little surprising, because it sounds English to me. A little more delving, however, shows that the roots of the expression are indeed from this side of the pond. A work of 1887, The Folk-Speech of South Cheshire, says, “Gonder, to stretch the neck like a gander, to stand at gaze”. The next known example is from the Cincinnati Enquirer of 9 May 1903: “Gander, to stretch or rubber your neck”. It is claimed that it comes from thieves’ slang.
  • Think of a gaggle of farmyard geese, wandering about in their typically aimless and stupid way, poking their noses in everywhere and twisting their necks to stare at anything that might be interesting. Geese are the archetypal rubberneckers. No doubt to gander became the term because to goose had already been borrowed; this was taken from the way that the birds were known to put their beaks embarrassingly — and sometimes painfully — into one’s more private places.
  • to take a gander, is recorded from the USA around 1914; here, gander is a noun in the sense of a inquisitive look. In the century since, that form has become much more common while the verb has lost ground.

I expect it just alludes to geese having long necks, making it really obvious when a gander

cranes1 its neck
reach forward with head and neck, in order to see better


1 I didn't know until I just looked it up, but the etymology for the above verb and the noun crane = machine for raising and lowering heavy weights both derive from crane = long-necked bird (of the family Gruidæ).

  • It would be nice to have something more than “expectation” for the this, and why you see a connection between the word ‘gander’ and ‘crane’. – David Jul 22 '17 at 12:23
  • @David: The problem with this particular usage is that all the "easy" research will just turn up stuff dating back well over a century, for what was originally an American slang usage. But compare BrE/AmE corpuses in this NGram, which clearly shows a massive uptake in recent decades - more marked in BrE, but with a smaller upswing in AmE caused by exposure to wider dialectal usage as a result of cultural mixing during WW2. – FumbleFingers Jul 22 '17 at 13:15

It's Cockney rhyming slang. "Goose and Duck" became "Gander and Duck" = look. See also the nursery rhyme "Goosey Goosey Gander" which is where the " wander" association comes from.

"Goose" still has a sexual meaning in British culture, and that the nursery rhyme preserves these sexual overtones ("In my lady's chamber").
Wikipedia: Goosey Goosey Gander

Which is why "goose" was dropped and "Gander" became the shortened version.

  • Welcome to SE. If you had followed the guided tour you would be aware that we are only interested in answers supported by citations. Unfortunately you provide no evidence that gander is derived from Cockney rhyming slang via "goose" (most dictionaries give a different origin), no reference to the sexual connotations of "my lady's chamber" in the nursery rhyme (the Wikipedia reference says nothing about this), and no indication of how old the sexual meaning of "goose" is — my impression is that it is fairly restricted and recent.That is why someone has voted you down. – David Jul 4 '17 at 21:18
  • Look up "Goosey Goosey Gander" in wiki. : Other interpretations exist. Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey note in Birds Britannica that the greylag goose has for millennia been associated with fertility, that "goose" still has a sexual meaning in British culture, and that the nursery rhyme preserves these sexual overtones ("In my lady's chamber" – crownwhite Jul 6 '17 at 22:47
  • Look up Goosey Goosey Gander in Wikipedia and see: Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey note in Birds Britannica that the greylag goose has for millennia been associated with fertility, that "goose" still has a sexual meaning in British culture, and that the nursery rhyme preserves these sexual overtones ("In my lady's chamber") – crownwhite Jul 6 '17 at 22:52
  • "Unfortunately you provide no evidence that gander is derived from Cockney rhyming slang via "goose" (most dictionaries give a different origin) This is folk etymology (told to me by my Grandfather b1894 d1967) and as such is not comprehensively written down. As for dictionaries they all usually just copy one another with no research of their own. – crownwhite Jul 6 '17 at 22:55
  • Please re-read the first two sentences of my comment. As you are a first-poster I was trying to help you by explaining how the list worked. In saying you provided no evidence I was not saying that you were wrong, only that your answer gave neither me nor the OP any basis on which to judge whether you were right or wrong. It is frustrating when you are convinced something is so (I was certainly frustrated when I started) but that is the way this list works. If Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey support you then you should say so — with citation — in your answer. – David Jul 7 '17 at 8:43

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