I found the word, “goo up” in the following statement of New York Times’ (April 2nd) article titled “Desperately seeking synonyms,” which was written by Constance Hale as a series of writing lessons. Though it’s a little bit long quote, I thought the lines being of particular interest to foreign English learners:

Writers sometimes forget that the primary role of nouns is to paint a clear picture, and they pile up abstractions and leave us clueless as to the people, places, things or ideas they are writing about.

Sometimes this is intentional, as when a spokesman for Hasbro said that the closing of a Scrabble plant in Fairfax, Vt., in 1999 was part of a “global improvement product.” Other times, it is unintentional, as when novice writers goo up descriptions with a lot of lush adjectives, rather than a few precise nouns.

I can vaguely imagine what “goo up” means from the word “goo,” but am not very clear.

Cambridge English dictionary registers “goo” only as a noun meaning “an unpleasantly sticky substance. No mention on verb.

Oxford English Dictionary registers only the definition as a noun meaning, 1. Sticky or slimy substance. 2. Excessively sentimentality. No mention on verb.

Google Ngram registers usage of “goo up” declining since 1900.

Though I think the writer used the right word in right place as this is a part of series of “How-to write” lesson, can “goo” used as a verb, which neither CED nor OED does provide?

Is “goo up” popular or well-worn idiom? What are its exact meaning and easier analogues?

  • This could well be a complete one-off usage, but there's the (fairly uncommon) goop up, meaning "superficially improve" (cf supe up, dress up, tart up). You'll see that sense in some of these instances of goop it up. In general, to goo up is the same as gunk up - it's literal, and just means to seal with some kind of flexible caulking. Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:10
  • Think stick-on chest hair.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


It's an unusual construction, but I think what the writer means is to draw an analogy with a machine that is seized or clogged with 'goo'. It is a strongly metaphorical statement which is supposed to communicate the idea that popular writing is unnecessarily complicated (or constrained, or obfuscated) with too many personal anecdotes, and therefore doesn't fulfil its primary purpose, which is to educate or inform.

  • From the given answers, I understand “goo up” is something equivalent to Japanese verb, “hineri-dasu- 捻り出す,” literally meaning “squeeze out an idea (plan, haiku, money etc.) just like by pushing clogged paste out of a tube by pulling, twisting and pressing it”. But it doesn’t seem to be the phrase that adds special attraction to my speech and writing, even I add it to my poor stock of English vocabulary. Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 22:20
  • I don't think that's the intended meaning. Particularly when the text itself characterises the gooed up version as containing lush adjectives rather than precise nouns. It seems obvious to me the writer is thinking of gooey-eyed (oversweet & sentimental, cf dewy-eyed). In short, to goo up means to make [a text] vague and unclear by the use of wishy-washy adjectives rather than sharply-defined nouns. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 17:05

I can infer the meaning from the context (goo up: to make sticky, to thicken; [in the context of writing], to use too many words).

To answer your bottom-line questions, though:

  • No, it's not a well-used idiom.
  • Alternate words? Clog, perhaps? Muddy? Obscure?
  • 1
    Since it's not an established idiom, any "alternates" depend on subjective judgements of what "goo up" means. But given the contextualising "lush adjectives", I think cloy [up] might do it for me. I think there's an allusion to the established "dress up" though, so "tart up" works in my vernacular too. Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:02
  • Clog, muddy, obscure, gunk up, dress up, tart up, supe up, superficially improve, all given analogues give me an impression of “goop up” meaning a cosmetic use of a lot of flowery adjectives to description. I wonder why the writer who is teaching us how to write neatly and precisely and the importance of clarity in writing uses a “one-off” phrase, of which interpretation totally depends on subjective judgment of readers. Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 5:54
  • @YoichiOishi For what it is worth, my only impression of the phrase is similar to what Tom says: "something clogged up with sticky goo." It might mean something different in Britain, but I don't think many Americans would think the phrase meant anything other than that.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 0:00

"Goo up" is not a frequent idiom I've ever heard but I have little doubt it's from and/or equivalent to "gum up" (which still seems to have high frequency). Gum up would mean to stop something or slow something down--particularly some kind of process. Like putting gum between gears--which would get gum everywhere and slow or stop the gears. Goo is generally held to be sticky and unidentifiable substance.

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