I inadvertently caused a great deal of amusement among a group of friends by incorrectly using the word "goose" to describe the action of sneaking up behind a person and poking, tickling, or touching them simultaneously on both sides (above the hips, below the rib cage) in order to startle them.

The intended usage (that is to say, "the only relevant meaning of this word inside my head") additionally implies that the target of this action would be person who would not find the behavior objectionable or inappropriate.

As it turns out, the way my comment was interpreted by everyone present was consistent with the only American English definition for "to goose" that is even remotely similar to what I intended. It is a slang definition that refers to surprise contact occurring somewhat lower and toward the back (specifically, on or between the buttocks, like the surprise nipping of a goose), and often with a negative or invasive connotation. British English appears to have a similarly negative and sexual – though perhaps less anatomically precise – slang definition.

Is there any genuinely plausible sense (or perhaps a regional vernacular, particularly in the United States) in which my usage was correct? As a native speaker, I'm confused about how I came to believe that this usage of the word had a different meaning than it apparently does, and if there's a sensible explanation of how I inferred its meaning incorrectly (such as, "well, that is what people mean when they say it in Central Kansas") then I am curious to know.

I did find in informal definition "to prod or urge to action or an emotional reaction" but this seems like it might be a stretch, and in any event this is overshadowed by the fact that it is not the sense of the word that was obvious to any of the hearers.

I am inclined (now) to think there may not be a sense in which my usage could reasonably construed as correct, and if that is indeed the case, then is there actually a word to specifically describe using this tactic of surprise touch to the sides, from behind, in order to startle someone, particularly in a non-sexual sense among friends?

  • There is absolutely no sense, whatever, in which your usage was correct. "goose" only means "on the crack" "in the crack" or perhaps at best "sexually on , in, or around 'the ass'". same in all regions. "I'm confused about how I came to believe that this usage of the word had a different meaning" I find it utterly commonplace that people (including myself) have unique unusual misunderstandings of words; there is nothing to explain.
    – Fattie
    Sep 18, 2015 at 18:56
  • Regarding the "double tickle from behind" there's no single common term for that. When you say "poke" it's usually understood to mean a light-hearted poke, somewhere innocent (as opposed to a goose or perhaps pinch) - so that's something of an answer. {Note though that "poke" can be a light-hearted term for "have intercourse" in, say, Australia.)
    – Fattie
    Sep 18, 2015 at 18:58
  • 2
    I know how you came to believe it was innocuous. The children's game Duck, Duck, Goose!.
    – jxh
    Sep 18, 2015 at 23:53
  • "The cooks “forced unwanted hugs on waitresses or found other ways to touch them,” including 'jumper cabling,' in which cooks would squeeze the waist of a waitress from behind, ‘rat tailing,’ in which twisted kitchen towels were used to strike waitresses in the rear, ....” lexology.com/library/…
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:35
  • The nursery rhyme: “Goosey Goosey Gander, where will you wander? Upstairs, downstairs or in my lady’s chamber?” lulled you into a false innocence but is anything but innocent I’d say
    – iainH
    Jun 4, 2023 at 19:04

4 Answers 4


Your sense is not a stretch, although a bit too precise in the "simultaneously on both sides (above the hips, below the rib cage)" element.

  1. slang. To poke, tickle, etc., (a person) in a sensitive part, esp. the genital or anal regions; sometimes, more specifically, = fuck v. 1.


1906 Dial. Notes 3 138 Goose, to create nervous excitement in a person by pointing a finger at him or by touching or tickling him and making a peculiar whistle.

1932 J. T. Farrell Young Lonigan v. 205 Paulie slapped Denny's face. Denny bawled... Paulie goosed him. Denny squirmed.


1967 E. Partridge Dict. Slang Suppl. 1152/2 Goose, the predominant post-World War II meaning is ‘to jab a finger in ano, in order to surprise or annoy’.

["goose, v.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/80030 (accessed September 18, 2015).]

As you can see from the sequence of quotes and the meaning of the final one, if your sense was transmitted to you by someone, a grandparent for example, who learned the term before the end of WWII (during which the sense of 'to goose' was considerably vulgarized by soldiers), the sense you learned would correspond with what that person was likely to have encountered--aside from the precision I already pointed out.

Nonetheless, your use of the term with the sense you learned is now much more likely to evoke the more vulgar sense than what you intend, even imprecisely (a simple poke to startle)...although I, for one, depending on the context (and particularly the speaker or writer) understand it in the general sense "to poke, tickle, etc., in a sensitive part", rather than the more specific, vulgar sense commonly used.

If you're looking for a replacement phrase or term, what I've heard used is "a poke in the ribs", as in

1949 Lockhart (Texas) Post-Reg. 3 Mar. She laughed and gave him a discomposing poke in the ribs.

This is the common contemporary phrase closest in meaning to your sense of 'a goose'. Obviously it moves the location you specified upward on the torso, omits the simultaneous duality of your poke, and doesn't accommodate concise verbal use.


I agree with Joe Blow's comment - "goose" as a verb invariably means "to grab in the buttocks." As a somewhat reputable example, it's classed under "Romantic Interactions" in the life simulation video game The Sims 2, one of the best-selling PC video games of all time. Here's a video of the action being performed in-game.

Moving on to a better-suited word: when I was in elementary school (5 - 6 years ago), the word of choice to describe that exact action was taze. The second definition on Urban Dictionary confirms this, with 49 upvotes.

when someone pokes your sides from behind
guy : tazes girl
girl :hahahah stop it! :)
by aurora_is_ninja December 24, 2010

This isn't the best word that could be used to describe this, as it has a homophone tase, which means "to shoot with a Taser gun" (Merriam-Webster) - obviously a much more shocking action than your intent.

I haven't heard this word used since about 2010, but I would still recognise its meaning if someone said it to me today. I'm Canadian, so I can't speak for its use elsewhere.

  • 4
    I suspect that the "taze" of poking someone is derived from the "tase" meaning to shoot with a taser gun, and is based on the similar shock effect.
    – AndyT
    Jan 27, 2016 at 11:51
  • You were in elementary school 5-6 years ago?!!!
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:28
  • However, it doesn't seem to be meant to surprise, let alone start(le).
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:29

Ok, well, poking someone above the waist and below the ribcage is called "tasering" like EVERYWHERE. People who poke you there it makes you feel tickly.

  • 3
    Thanks, @Mary, but we probably need a citation to justify the assertion that this usage is common "like EVERYWHERE." Mar 4, 2017 at 14:25
  • 1
    I've never heard this in my life and I've lived in more than half the US states and been to all of them. I call this exact thing goosing, and have done for 50 years. I have no notion that goosing has anything to do with grabbing someone's butt either. So I think we need to consider this a regional variation.
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 12, 2019 at 22:26
  • Whoa, Mary. You'll get the privilege to post comments soon. Some patience, for now.
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:30

My experience is that Goose is specific to the round back area. Personally I use the word exactly as defined "to prod or urge to action or an emotional reaction", esp in the AD biz when referring to a desired action by the client/consumer. Not sure why that particular definition is surprising to you...

  • See my comment at Mary.
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 14:31

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