When I first began thinking about using the word gobbledygook in a posting I thought I was dealing with a word that was so “made up” that it wouldn’t even appear in a dictionary. I was surprised to find it every place I looked, including the classic Garner’s Modern American Usage. I have to admit, however, that I found Garner’s report on the word almost as confusing as the very content gobbledygook represents. He says:
“The term refers to the obscure language charactgeristic of jargonmongering bureaucrats.”
Translated into English, that means that gobbledygook is employed when management people in agencies or organizations over-use jargon or other in-house words which are not familiar to others. It creates confusion in the understanding of on-lookers.
Sometimes babies are said to babble gobbledygook, although I think there must be an intention to confuse on the part of the speaker in order for the word to apply. Babies aren’t trying to confuse. If anything, they are experimenting with language in order to come to a point where their words make sense.
But there is no lack of examples to draw from in order to demonstrate gobbledygook.
- Over the past couple of weeks political leaders have been confronted with the question as to where they stand on the issue of “gay marriage.” In attempts to try to conceal their true feelings for fear they will alienate voters on one side of the issue or the other, the answers given by the politicians amount to gobbledygook.
- Take a product you have purchased back to the store to turn it in because it is broken or just doesn’t work, and the response you get from the clerk will often amount to gobbledygook.
- Witnesses in a trial will often resort to gobbledegook when presented with a difficult question, the answer to which could be damaging.
- Try to get a teenager to tell you where (he) has been for the past four hours when he stumbles into the house at 2:00 a.m. It would take the rest of the night to sort out the gobbledygook.
- When an investigative reporter confronts a citizen who is clearly in the process of breaking the law, the interview moves from clarity to gobbledygook without flinch of the eyes.
- A teacher confronts a student about why (her) homework is missing. Knowing that the “hungry dog” excuse is so overused as to be useless, the only alternative is to respond in gobbledygook.
There is a degree of humor in the use of gobbledygook. If you are old enough to remember Abbott and Costello or the Marx Brothers or Jackie Gleason you will remember the convoluted, unintelligible dialogues that characterized their routines. The famous “Who’s on First” sketch is a classic.
But if you’re on the business end of a conversation and the person with whom you are negotiating insists upon using gobbledygook it is infuriating.
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