gobbledygook n : incomprehensible or pompous jargon of specialists
Gobbledygook or gobbledegook (sometimes shortened to gobbledegoo) is an English term used to describe nonsensical language, sound that resembles language but has no meaning, or unintelligible encrypted text. It is also used to refer to official, professional or pretentious language. In this sense, gobbledygook is a hurdle of communication at best, a means of imposing power at worst.
The term was coined on March 30, 1944 by Maury Maverick, chairman of the United States Smaller War Plants Corporation. In a memo banning "gobbledygook language", he wrote "anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot". Maverick later used the word in the New York Times Magazine on May 21, 1944 as part of a further complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues. His inspiration, he said, was his neighbor of Dutch descent named Gobbel De Gook. He explained, "De Gook was always outside working on his tulips, talking aloud, incessantly, about something he apparently thought was important, but no one could understand a word he said, as we neighbors called it, he just spoke a bunch of Gobbel De Gook."
ExamplesNixon's Oval Office tape from June 14 shows H. R. Haldeman describing the situation to Nixon.
- "To the ordinary guy, all this is 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; and you can't rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it's wrong, and the President can be wrong."
Former United States President Ronald Reagan explained tax law revisions in an address to the nation, 28 May 1985:
- "Most (tax revisions) 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."
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."
The Plain English Campaign FAQ includes the following explanation:
- "What's wrong with gobbledygook? We can't put it any better than a nurse who wrote about a baffling memo. She said that 'receiving information in this form makes us feel hoodwinked, inferior, definitely frustrated and angry, and it causes a divide between us and the writer.'"
In popular cultureJ.K. Rowling makes "Gobbledegook" the language of goblins in the Harry Potter novels, specifically Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which Albus Dumbledore and Bartemius Crouch can speak gobbledegook fluently. Ludo Bagman knows one word: Bladvak ("pickaxe").
In the film Thirteen, the two main characters use a form of gobbledygook as their secret language to separate themselves from their parents.
In the 'Airline Pilot Sketch' from Monty Python's Flying Circus, the Pilots speak gobbledygook in order to confuse and scare passengers:
"The scransons above your heads are now ready to flange. Please unfasten your safety belts and press the emergency photoscamps on the back of the seats in front of you."
In other languagesIn Greek, when one talks in non-understood specialist jargon he is said to speak "alabournezica" , a fictitious language. When somebody talks gibberish it's "acatalavistica" (i.e. "ununderstandables"). If one is being vague on purpose, especially when he should do the opposite, he is talking "cinezica" . In French, the slang word for gobbledygook is "le charabia". It is used informally in conversations. Three similar-meaning words appear in Russian: "Bilibirda", "Tarabarshchina" and "Abracadabra". Grammatically, they work in a similar way to a language, and refer to nonsense talk. The Finnish corresponding term is kapulakieli (cudgel language), referring to haughty, high-spirited and unintelligible office language.
This word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.
gobbledygook in Spanish: Galimatías
gobbledygook in Finnish: Kapulakieli
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