Gibberish is a generic term in English for talking that sounds like speech, but carries no actual meaning. This meaning has also been extended to meaningless text or gobbledygook. The common theme in gibberish statements is a lack of literal sense, which can be described as a presence of nonsense. Gibberish should not be confused with literary nonsense such as that used in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll.
The term was first seen in English in the early 16th century.
One etymology asserts it is derived from the root of the Irish word gob or gab (mouth), which the same source asserts is the root of jabber, gibber and gobble. The word may derive from the word "jabber" ("to talk nonsense"), with the "-ish" suffix to signify a language.
Another etymology links it directly to the Irish term Geab ar ais (pron. g'ab er'ash), gab ar ais (pron. gab er'ash), back talk, backward chat; fig. back-slanged speech. Gab (gaelic), n., to chat or talk a lot. Geab (pron. g'ab) n., chat. (Donegal.) Geabaire, n., a chatterer or blabberer. Ar ais (pron. er ash), back; backwards. However, this Irish etymology was suggested by Daniel Cassidy, whose work has been widely criticised by reputable linguists and scholars. The terms geab and geabaire are certainly Irish words, but the phrase geab ar ais does not exist, and the word gibberish exists as a loan-word in Irish as gibiris, defined by Ó Dónaill as "Gibberish. Gibiris chainte - unintelligible speech". (Ó Dónaill, Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla, 630). Thus like many of Cassidy's derivations, this proposed explanation appears quite improbable.
Another theory is that the word comes from the name of the famous 8th-century Islamic alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, whose name was Latinized as "Geber", thus the term "gibberish" arose as a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by Jabir and other alchemists who followed.
Some speculative accounts attribute the word's origin to the language of the Rock of Gibraltar, Llanito, which is a form of Spanish heavily mixed with English. However, the word first appears well before England acquired Gibraltar in 1713.
Utilizing Gibberish whilst acting can be used as an exercise in performance art education. Another usage of Gibberish is as part of Osho's Gibberish meditation which has been derived from an old Sufi practice.
- Chantrell, Glynnis (2002). The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-19-863121-9.
- Makay, Charles A Glossary of Obscure Words and Phrases in the Writings of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, pp. 183-184, S. Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1887
- Cassidy, Daniel. "A Dictionary of Irish-American Vernacular" in How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads; Counterpunch and AK Press 2007, pp. 155-156; ISBN 978-1-904859-60-4
- Seaborg, Glenn T. (March 1980). "Our heritage of the elements". Metallurgical and Materials Transactions B (Springer Boston) 11 (1): 5–19.
- Spolin, Viola (1999). Improvisation for the Theater: a Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (3rd ed.). Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0810140098.
- Gibberish and Let-Go, last visited November 22, 2013.
- "A Systematic Examination of Gibberish in a Multilingual Schizophrenic Patient". J. P. S. Robertson. Language and Speech, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1-8 (1959). doi:10.1177/002383095900200102
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