Wednesday, December 30, 2009


George from Harrisburg asked about a word that he heard on BBC America. The word was gobsmacked.

It’s no coincidence that he was tuned in to a British network. The word is a slang term found in the UK, but not much in America. It means flabbergasted, astounded, left speechless. It also shows up as gobstruck.

Since the 16th century, gob has been a dialectical term for the mouth. It may have come from a Gaelic word meaning a beak or snout. (I remember my Irish mother urging me to go wash my dirty gub.) To smack is to slap or to strike. So figuratively, it’s as if you had been punched in the mouth.

Gob has had some interesting variations. As a noun, gob has meant

  • a mass or a lump
  • a clot of some slimy substance
  • a lump of molten glass about to be shaped
  • a large sum of money
  • a large mouthful of food
  • conversation
  • the empty space left when coal has been extracted
  • an American sailor [from gobby, a word meaning a spitter]

As a verb, gob has meant

  • to cause an obstruction in a furnace
  • to brag
  • to spit

Time to pop in a gobstopper.

SIDEBAR: Gob (Canadian Band)

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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