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The etymologies of "goon" that I've looked up seem to center on Alice the Goon, a "slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character" created by E.C. Segar (Popeye's daddy).

But it seems like at least one of the senses of the word, as in "hired company goons", could very well be derived from the Hindi word gunda (pronounced goon-daa) meaning hoodlum or bully.

Any insights or information on this?

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  • In Australia "goon" is slang for casked-wine, and a "goon-bag" is the bladder that such wine is stored in (inside the cask).
    – jsj
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 11:05

5 Answers 5

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The Pacific Northwest (British Columbia) had many Sikh immigrants between 1880 and about 1907, a large percentage of whom were employed in the forestry industry. It seems quite likely that the Hindu "gunda" (hoodlum or bully) could be a source of the term "goon," especially since many of the strikers on the receiving end of the company attention would have been of Sikh extraction. This a closer meaning to the current usage than "booby or simpleton."

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The English word goon and the Hindi word gunda have a similar meaning and form, but are etymologically unrelated; the similarity is just a coincidence. Such pairs are called false cognates; there are many examples.

Note that the Online Etymology Dictionary you linked to says that

sense of "hired thug" first recorded 1938 (in ref. to union "beef squads" used to cow strikers in the Pacific northwest).

While there are indeed many English words that originated in Sanskrit, Hindi etc. (don't believe everything on Wikipedia, though), most of these words came into English during British colonial rule and would be unlikely to make their first appearance in the Pacific northwest circa 1938.

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  • I definitely didn't suggest that there was an older kinship (as with "widow", "gnosis" and many other words), but, as you say, a case of a word imported during colonial rule (like "pukka" etc). But your point about the geographical location where this usage seemingly evolved does seem decide the matter.
    – Felixyz
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 11:24
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Wiktionary gives us information on etymology of "Goon":

Etymology 1

Shortened from gooney, from obsolete gony ("simpleton", c.1580), of unknown origin. Gony was applied by sailors to the albatross and similar big, clumsy birds (c.1839). Goon first carried the meaning "stupid person" (c.1921).

  • The meaning of "hired thug" (c.1938) is largely influenced by the comic strip character Alice the Goon from the Popeye series.
  • The "fool" sense was reinforced by the popular radio program, The Goon Show, starring Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.

Etymology 2

Diminutive slang for flagon.

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  • +1. The OED gives the etymology as "[Perhaps a shortened form of dial. gooney (GONY 1) ‘a booby, a simpleton’; but more immediately from the name of a subhuman creature called Alice the Goon in a popular cartoon series by E. C. Segar (1894-1938), American cartoonist.]" Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 12:18
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The slow-witted / stupid person aspect of "goon" was applied by Enid Blyton to her character Theophilus Goon, the local policeman in the 'Mystery' series of books for children - the first of which was published in the 1940s. Mr. Goon also had a spiteful nature.

see 'The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage' etc.

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According to Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore it was used by Australian bush rangers in the early 19th century to refer to the dragoons chasing them.

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