Thursday, June 16, 2011

Origins: Gobbledygook

The Free Online Dictionary defines gobbledegook as pretentious or unintelligible jargon, such as that used by officials.

According to the UK based Plain English Campaign, which has since 1979 been advocating the use of understandable plain language:

"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.'"

The word was coined by Maury Maverick, a member of the US House of Representatives in 1944.  Working for the Smaller War Plants Corporation, he was fed up with the “convoluted language of bureaucrats” and with "that terrible, involved, polysyllabic language those government people use in Washington."

He issued a memo banning the use of incomprehensible language, stating “(Those turkeys in Texas were) ... always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity. At the end of this gobble there was a sort of gook.”

Although speakers such as George W Bush and Dan Quayle have frequently been quoted for unintelligible comments, their utterances are frequently more foot in mouth than gobbldegook:

"I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe – I believe what I believe is right." – George W Bush

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."  - Donald Rumsfeld

True gobbledegook requires a public servant to do it right:


Commissioner may disregard scheme in making declarations

 For the purposes of making a declaration under this Subdivision, the Commissioner may:
(a)  treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened; and 
(b)  treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened and, if appropriate, treat the event as:       
 (i)  having happened at a particular time; and        
(ii)  having involved particular action by a particular entity; and  
(c)  treat a particular event that actually happened as: 
              (i)  having happened at a time different from the time it actually happened; or        
(ii)  having involved particular action by a particular entity (whether or not the event actually involved any action by that entity).

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