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For the language game, see Gibberish (language game).
"Gobbledigook" redirects here. For the Sigur Rós song, see Gobbledigook (song).

Gibberish and gobbledygook refer to speech or other use of language that is nonsense, or that appears to be nonsense. It may include speech sounds that are not actual words,[1] or forms such as language games or highly specialized jargon that seems non-sensical to outsiders.[2] Gibberish should not be confused with literary nonsense such as that used in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll.[citation needed]

The word gibberish is more commonly applied to speech, while gobbledygook (sometimes gobbledegook, gobbledigook or gobbledegoo) is more often applied to writing.[citation needed] "Officialese", "legalese", or "bureaucratese" are forms of gobbledygook. The related word jibber-jabber refers to rapid talk that is difficult to understand.[3]


The term gibberish was first seen in English in the early 16th century.[4] Its etymology is not certain, but it is generally thought to be onomatopoeia imitative of speech, similar to the related words jabber (to talk rapidly) and gibber (to speak inarticulately).[5][6]

Less widely accepted theories assert that it is derived from the Irish word gob or gab (mouth)[7] or from the Irish phrase Geab ar ais (back talk, backward chat).[8] The latter Irish etymology was suggested by Daniel Cassidy, whose work has been criticised by linguists and scholars.[9][10][11] 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.[12]

Another theory is that gibberish 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.[13][14]

According to Michael Quinion on his World Wide Words website gobbledygook was first coined on 21 May 1944 by Maury Maverick, a congressman from Texas. His comments, recorded in the New York Times Magazine, were made when Maverick was the Democratic chairman of the US Congress Smaller War Plants Committee. He was being critical of the obscure language used by other committee members. The allusion was to a turkey, "always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity."[15] It is sometimes abbreviated slightly to gobbledygoo.[16]

Contemporary reports, as shown by a United Press dispatch published in the Pittsburgh Press, identify the date of Maverick's statement as March 31.[17] Maverick's message includes the following sentence: "Stay off the gobbledygook language. It only fouls people up."[17]


The term "gobbledygook" has a long history of usage in politics. Nixon's Oval Office tape from June 14, 1971, showed H. R. Haldeman describing a situation to Nixon as "a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: you can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say."[18] President Ronald Reagan explained tax law revisions in an address to the nation with the word, May 28, 1985, saying that "most didn’t improve the system; they made it more like Washington itself: complicated, unfair, cluttered with gobbledygook and loopholes designed for those with the power and influence to hire high-priced legal and tax advisers."[19]

Michael Shanks, former chairman to the National Consumer Council of Great Britain, characterizes professional gobbledygook as sloppy jargon intended to confuse nonspecialists: "'Gobbledygook' may indicate a failure to think clearly, a contempt for one's clients, or more probably a mixture of both. A system that can't or won't communicate is not a safe basis for a democracy."[20]

Utilizing gibberish whilst acting can be used as an exercise in performance art education.[21] Another usage of Gibberish is as part of Osho's Gibberish meditation[22] which has been derived from an old Sufi practice.

Other terms and usage[edit]

Further information: Officialese and Legalese

The terms officialese or bureaucratese refer to language used by officials or authorities. Legalese is a closely related concept, referring to language used by lawyers, legislators, and others involved with the law. The language used in these fields may contain complex sentences and specialized jargon or buzzwords, making it difficult for those outside the field to understand.[23] Speakers or writers of officialese or legalese may recognize that it is confusing or even meaningless to outsiders, but view its use as appropriate within their organization or group.[24]

Bafflegab is a synonym, a slang term referring to confusing or a generally unintelligible use of jargon.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robertson, J.P.S.; Shamsie, S.J. (1959). "A systematic examination of gibberish in a multilingual schizophrenic patient". Language and Speech (Sage) 2 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1177/002383095900200102. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Laycock, D. (1972). "Towards a typology of ludlings, or play-languages". Linguistic Communications: Working Papers of the Linguistic Society of Australia 6: 61–113. 
  3. ^ Stevenson, Angus; Lindberg, Christine A. (2010). jibber-jabber. New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford University Press USA). ISBN 978-0-19-539288-3. 
  4. ^ Chantrell, Glynnis (2002). The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-19-863121-9. 
  5. ^ "gibberish, n. and adj.". Oxford English Dictionary online. Oxford University Press. 2013. 
  6. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Mackay, Charles (1887). A Glossary of Obscure Words and Phrases in the Writings of Shakspeare and his Contemporaries Traced Etymologically to the Ancient Language of the British People as Spoken Before the Irruption of the Danes and Saxons. S. Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. pp. 183–184. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Cassidy, Daniel (2007). "A Dictionary of Irish-American Vernacular". How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. CounterPunch. pp. 155–156. ISBN 978-1-904859-60-4. 
  9. ^ Brady, Michael Patrick (17 October 2007). "How the Irish Invented Slang by Daniel Cassidy". PopMatters. Retrieved 2014-03-24. 
  10. ^ Barrett, Grant (9 November 2007). "Humdinger of a Bad Irish Scholar". Retrieved 2014-03-24. 
  11. ^ Zwicky, Arnold (9 November 2007). "Gullibility in high places". Language Log. Retrieved 2014-03-24. 
  12. ^ Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. An Gúm. 1992. p. 630. ISBN 978-1-85791-037-7. 
  13. ^ Seaborg, Glenn T. (March 1980). "Our heritage of the elements". Metallurgical and Materials Transactions B (Springer Boston) 11 (1): 5–19. doi:10.1007/bf02657166. 
  14. ^ Jack, Albert (2011). It's a Wonderful Word: The Real Origins of Our Favourite Words. London: Random House UK. ISBN 978-1847946690. 
  15. ^ Gartner, Michael (26 May 1985). "Gobbledygood". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "World Wide Words Michael Quinion". Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  17. ^ a b "Gobbledygook? Lay Off It, Maverick Says". Pittsburgh Press. 31 March 1944. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  18. ^ Wheen, Francis (2010). Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia. Public Affairs. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-00-744120-4. 
  19. ^ Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations at Archived December 27, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Contemporary Quotes". October 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2014. [unreliable source?]
  21. ^ Spolin, Viola (1999). Improvisation for the Theater: a Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (3rd ed.). Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0810140098. 
  22. ^ Gibberish and Let-Go, last visited November 22, 2013.
  23. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2009). Garner on Language and Writing. American Bar Association. ISBN 978-1-61632-679-1. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  24. ^ Czarniawska, Barbara (1997). Narrating the Organization: Dramas of Institutional Identity. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-13229-7. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  25. ^ "bafflegab". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 

External links[edit]