For me, the term garbledy gook simply means garbage; unintelligible text or speech. An example usage would be:

If you open that binary file in notepad, you'll just see a load of garbledy gook

However, I just used this on the phone to a customer and, as I said it, I wondered about the origins. The word gook by itself is a racist or derogatory term for people of south east Asian origins (source) and the last thing I want to do at work (or anywhere, to be honest!) is use that kind of language.

Where did this phrase come from? Does it have origins in racism?

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    Where I come from gook is pronounced completely differently than the racist epithet.
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 19:49
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    It has no racist connotations at all, but alas, neither does "niggardly," and an aide to the mayor of Washington, D.C. was forced to resign in 1999 over using it, nor "picnic," which an officer of the State University of New York at Albany disallowed for an event honoring Jackie Robinson in 2000 based on the false claim that "picnic" refers to lynching. I would also advise against saying that anyone sounds like a water buffalo in Philadelphia.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 22:01
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    What a question! Gook is the same as gunk, which is not quite the same as junk. None of those is “racist”. Sheesh!
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 0:51
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    As @horatio says, the 'gook' here is pronounced [gʊk] and rhymes with 'look'; the racist one is [guk] and rhymes with 'Luke'. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 6:24
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    This question was asked in June 2012—before there was a "show research" requirement on this site. I think it is a mistake to impose ex post facto requirements on questions like this one, (which I believe has been open for the past nine years until today), and I think it should be reopened.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


The word is spelled gobbledygook and does not have racist origins (although they are fowl). Here is the etymology:

also gobbledegook, "the overinvolved, pompous talk of officialdom" [Klein], 1944, Amer.Eng., first used by U.S. Rep. Maury Maverick, D.-Texas, (1895-1954), a grandson of the original maverick and chairman of U.S. Smaller War Plants Corporation during World War II. First used in a memo dated March 30, 1944, banning "gobbledygook language" and mock-threateaning, "anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot." Maverick said he made up the word in imitation of turkey noise. Another word for it, coined about the same time, was bafflegab (1952).

Edit: As JLG says, "Wikipedia's entry is pretty good, too.

Gobbledygook or gobbledegook (sometimes gobbledegoo) is any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible. "Bureaucratese" is one form of gobbledygook.

There are two distinct and opposite cases. One is that incomprehensible material is actual gibberish. In the other some abstruse material is either ineptly presented or is subjectively perceived to be gibberish due to a lack of preparation.

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    Bafflegab is awesome. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:02
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    I'll have to work bafflegab into a report sometime. "Cut the technical bafflegab; you're not being paid by the word."
    – Gnawme
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:12
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    Wikipedia's entry is pretty good, too. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gobbledygook . And to answer your question, no, its origins are not racist.
    – JLG
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:17
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    @JLG what if I enjoy your comments? :) Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 21:38
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    @cornbreadninja Bafflegab is reminiscent of Balderdash, another of my favorites. "Cut the technical bafflegab; it's just balderdash, and you're not being paid by the word anyway."
    – user6828
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 2:37

Authorities on U.S. slang are quite clear that gobbledygook in the sense of "impenetrable bureaucratic jargon" was introduced in early 1944 by Maury Maverick, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas and at the time chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation.

Here is the entry for gobbledygook in J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994):

gobbledygook n. {cf gobbledygoo} pretentious or deceptive nonsense; malarkey; (specif.) language characterized by pomposity, circumlocution, or jargon. Now S[tandard] E[nglish]. {Introduced in its specific sense by Maury Maverick, chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corp., early 1944.}

The earliest match for gobbledygook that an Elephind newspaper database search turns up is from "Gibberish on the Potomac" in the Indianapolis [Indiana] Times (April 1, 1944), which reads as follows:

Maury Maverick, ex-congressman, ex-mayor of San Antonio, now head of the Smaller War Plants Corp, is in danger of being blackballed by the Bureaucrats club.

Maury's offense may be pardoned on the ground that he is a comparative tenderfoot in the jungles of downtown Washington, and that he hasn't been properly indoctrinated in the double talk by which it is commonly agreed all the business of the government must be conducted. Nevertheless, he is guilty of an appalling breach of bureaucratic etiquette for issuing to his staff a communique which said in part:

“Memoranda should be as short as clearness will allow. The naval officer who wired ‘Sighted sub—sank same’ told the whole story. Put the subject matter—the point—and even the conclusion, in the opening paragraph and the whole story on one page.

“Stay off the gobbledygook language. It only fouls people up. For the Lord's sake, be short and say what you're talking about. Let's stop ‘pointing up’ programs, ‘finalizing’ contracts that ‘stem from’ district, regional or Washington ‘levels.’ . . . No more ‘patterns,’ ‘effectuating,’ ‘dynamics.’

“Anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.”

There are men in Washington, and no doubt in Mr. Maverick's own establishment, who would be left completely inarticulate if this brash edict were actually implemented—er, we mean to say, if Maury endeavored to activate—uh, that is, if he tried to carry out this reactionary assault on New Deal English.

The first association in a newspaper of gobbledygook with the sounds that turkeys make, however, appears more than four years later in Frank Colby, "Take My Word for It," in the San Bernardino [California] Sun (July 2, 1948):

St. Paul [Minnesota]: Not long ago you used the term "gobbledygook" in the meaning, I suppose, of meaningless talk. I have seen the word before, but do not know its origin. Will you please supply it for us?—W. T. D.


Maverick said, "People ask me where I got 'gobbledygook.' I don't know. It must have come like a vision. Perhaps I was thinking of the old turkey gobbler back in Texas who was always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ridiculous pomposity. At the end of his gooble there was a sort of 'gook'."

Maury Maverick was a colorful character—a third-generation Texan whose grandfather had signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836, a New Deal Democrat from a very conservative state, and a man as responsible as anyone for launching the political career of Lyndon Johnson. With this background in mind, one may gauge more judiciously whether Maverick's turkey-based origin story for gobbledygook is on the level or is merely after-the-fact whitewashing.

The reason this is relevant is that the slang terms "gobble the goop" (by 1918) and "gobbledygoo" (by 1938) were in use in U.S. slang with a far less socially acceptable meaning than "language characterized by pomposity, circumlocution, or jargon." Here are Lighter's entries for these terms, together, with citations to instances in which they appeared before 1944:

gobble the goop {or goo or gook or goose} to perform fellatio or cunnilingus.—usu. considered vulgar. 1918–19 in Carey Mlle. from Armentières I (unp[aginated]): Oh, Mademoiselle from Niedermendig/Gobbled the Goop for fünfzehn pfennig." Ibid. II (unp[aginated] The Mademoiselle from Bar-le-Duc/Taught the Yanks to gobble the goop. 1941 G. Legman, in G. Henry Sex Vars. II 1167: Gobble the goo. To practice fellation. Also gobble the goop and gobble the goose. ...

gobbledygoo n. {alter. of phr. gobble the goo ...} 1. Pros. (see quots.). Also gobblegoo. 1938 in D.W. Maurer Lang. Und. 116: Gobblegoo. A prostitute who prefers intercourse through the mouth. 1941 G. Legman, in G. Henry Sex Vars. II 1167: In prostitutes' slang a fellatrice is called a gobbledegoo. ...

These terms seem to have been limited primarily to the demimonde of soldiers, sailors, laborers, criminals, prostitutes, etc., and were unknown to most refined people in the United States at the time. The question is, Was Maverick in 1944 unfamiliar with gobbledygoo in its earlier sexual sense? If so, the similarity in spelling might be entirely coincidental. I think it considerably more likely, however, that he was aware of the term and that he chose gobbledygook as a kind of coarse joke, riffing on the earlier goobledygoo as a way of disparaging the practice of stuffing communications with bureaucratic jargon—and only later invented the turkey origin story as a way to avoid shocking the sensibilities of the multitude of postwar Americans who had adopted gobbledygook in all innocence as a term for bureaucratic blather because it sounded funny.

A somewhat similar situation arose in connection with the slang term gunsel, which most people who have seen the 1941 Humphrey Bogart/Mary Astor version of the film The Maltese Falcon associate with a young hothead gunslinger, but which actually comes from gonsel, a much older term that has nothing to do with firearms.

In any case, the "gook" in gobbledygook does not seem to be traceable to any previously existing pejorative slang term for a member of a particular race or ethnicity—although such terminology did exist before 1944. In particular, Lighter notes an instance in The Nation (July 10, 1920) in which a journalist reports that U.S. Marines in Haiti (which the U.S. military was occupying at the time) refer to Haitians as "Gooks," and an instance in a U.S. military newspaper in China (January 14, 1921) in which "Gook Land" is used as a slang designation for the Philippines.

  • 1
    Considering the answers to etymology of ‘venus flytrap’ along side this one, I may have to post a single word request asking “what’s the word for the etymology you tell in polite company to whitewash the vulgar nature of the actual origin?”
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:26

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