April 5, 2016

Case File #016.04.05: GOBSMACKED

The slang word gobsmacked (sometimes spelled gob-smacked), which essentially means “dumbfounded” or “flabbergasted,” originated in the UK during the 1980s, though it is now quickly becoming popular among the English-speaking youth of other countries such as the US and Canada. Etymologists and linguists believe the adjective was formed by combining the noun gob, a British slang word for mouth that has Gaelic roots and traces back to the sixteenth century, and the past tense of the verb smack, meaning “to strike or hit,” with the connotation thus being that those who are gobsmacked are as stunned by something as they would be if they were suddenly smacked in the mouth. Some experts claim gobsmacked was coined in the early 1980s by the writing staff of a couple of British TV shows, both of which were about working-class people and were set in industrial towns in Northern England. But others believe the adjective originated within the youth culture of Northern England and Southern Scotland and that the television writers, well versed in the argot of the people about whom they wrote, were simply the first to use the word in the mass media. But whichever the case, gobsmacked remains a popular slang word in the UK today, and though nobody really knows why the word only recently started gaining currency in other English-speaking countries, at least one expert believes the lexemic migration was bolstered in 2009 by Scottish singer Susan Boyle's success on the BBC's TV show Britain’s Got Talent and her subsequent ample use of gobsmacked during interviews.

©2016 Michael R. Gates