Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply


Post by Tony Farg » Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:13 pm

Well, the harvest season has begun on our smallholding and I have spent the last 4 hours picking about 20 kilos of gooseberries...a very painful and mind-freeing activity.
Amongst the random wanderings of my mind were two queries, with which the OED cannot help me.
1) What is the origin of the use of the term "gooseberry" to describe what the OED calls a chaperone, but I would have described as any unwanted third party in what otherwise could have been a romantic encounter.
2)where did the familiar term "goosegogs" come from. At first I thought this was another of my Father's home-made words, then tried it out on my moiety (apologies to Bob)who knew it before she met then I think "oh, it must be a northern English term" but neighbour from Kent (in the south of the UK) produced the term unsolicited.
In South Wales where I now live, Gogs is a semi-derogatory term to describe the Welsh tribes who live in the north of Wales, and is a shortened form of the Welsh word meaning North. (by the way, when I asked a Gog what they call South-Walians, he said "same as what you scrape off your shoe".
I cannot make any connections here. Anybody any ideas?


Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jun 23, 2007 11:40 am

Our tribe in the South is "Hwntws". Hunters. Though why I don't know.

I had goosegogs as well as a child, but my cousin who always visited in the goosegog season and helped with the harvest, and the demolishing of the pies, lived in the English Midlands, and as he was older than me, I could well have picked up the word from him.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales


Post by Gandalfbeb » Sun Jun 24, 2007 8:26 pm

Goosegogs was a childhood term used by my wife and me; so that is Sussex and London covered. As far as being a gooseberry was concerned I think my elder sister would have recognised that as my role during her courting days. There is an informal verb,to goose, meaning to poke someone in the bottom - perhaps with the intention of getting them to move away?


Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jun 24, 2007 9:38 pm

Tony and Bob, GOOSEBERRY (slang British expression, said to be obsolete in the U.S.): Applied to a third person (‘a propriety third’) present when two others, especially two lovers, wish to be alone together, often in the phrase PLAY GOOSEBERRY; a chaperon(e); sometimes any unwanted third person. The term has taken on the connotation of a chaperon(e) for a pair of lovers who accompanies them for appearance’s sake only in order to give them an opportunity to be in each other’s company and perhaps even engage in some – oh my gosh – physical contact! <“When her boyfriend came over I went out because I didn’t want to play gooseberry.”>

The origin of this 19th-century usage is unknown, but most sources, beginning in 1870 with Dr. Brewer of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable fame, ascribe it to the actions of some legendary chaperon(e) who had the tact to keep himself out of the way and occupied picking gooseberries, so that young lovers might enjoy each others affections.

Eric Partridge, on the other hand, in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English suggests that the colloquialism GOOSEBERRY (1837) originally meant ‘fool’ (circa 1820-1895), which derived from a shortening of the earlier GOOSEBERRY FOOL, which, presumably, also meant ‘fool.’ But he offers no explanation of how ‘gooseberry,’ the fruit, got into the picture. He suggests that the later meaning (1837) of GOOSEBERRY as a ‘chaperon(e), or a ‘save-appearance third person’ was perhaps an extension of the earlier ‘fool’ meaning. In any event, he tells us that the ‘extra person’ meaning was dialect until about 1860, when it became colloquial. And the expression to PLAY GOOSEBERRY, meaning to act as the chaperon(e), ‘gooseberry,’ or ‘propriety third,’ also first appeared in print in 1837 (see quote below). A late 19th century variation of the expression was to DO GOOSEBERRY.

Nigel Rees in Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins tells us that the word GOOSEBERRY, meaning the odd one out, came from a shortening of the earlier expression PLAY GOOSEBERRY,’ which he says derived, in agreement with Partridge, from the chaperon(e)’s cooperation in picking gooseberries. But he then offers an explanation of where Partridges’ GOOSEBERRY FOOL came from. The chaperon(e), not being in a very enviable or enjoyable position, may have felt a bit of a fool, and the GOOSEBERRY since the early 18th century had been a slang synonym for ‘fool.’ Two possible explanations he offered for the fool/gooseberry connection were: 1) the 'fool' comes from the earlier name of the pudding known as ‘gooseberry fool' [[but where did the pudding get this name?]] or 2) the 'fool' supposedly derives from the comical appearance of gooseberries. [I had the serendipitous experience yesterday of seeing my first gooseberry ever (at the ridiculously low price of 1/4 pint for $4.99 at Whole Foods Markets - get them while they last - and at those prices, Tony, at least over here your 4 hours of labor would have done you very proud. And I did feel it was true, though, that with those miniature longitude lines, the little suckers did have the somewhat comical look of a teenie-weenie melon or gourd of some sort.]

Jonathon Green in his Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang provides still a few more twists. He says that the in the 19th century GOOSEBRRY meant “‘a fool’ [punning on the popular dessert, gooseberry fool, which is also 'soft,' (the adjective meaning since the 17th century) stupid, dull, foolish]” In the mid-19th century GOOSEBERRY also called a GOOSEBERRY-PICKER came to mean “an unwanted chaperon(e), especially a third party who is not wanted by or feels uncomfortable being with the couple [? gooseberry fool or ? their excuse for following the couple round a garden: ‘I’m just picking gooseberries’; but note GOOSEBERRY PUDDING, an (older) woman, who might well be an unwanted chaperon(e)].”

But it seems that GOOSEBERRY, the fruit, had a bad rap long before the 19th century. Shakespeare had Falstaff dissing them in Henry IV:
<1598 “. . . all the other gifts appertinent to man, as the malice of this age shapes them, are not worth a GOOSEBERRY.”—‘Henry IV Part 2’ by Shakespeare, I, ii>
And TO PLAY OLD GOOSEBERRY (1791) meant to ‘play the deuce’ (circa 1810) where ‘deuce’ is a euphemism for the devil and thus ‘to play old gooseberry’ meant ‘to play the devil’ (also ‘play old Harry - circa 1740 and ‘play old Hack’ - 1876) thereby causing great mischief and creating confusion/havoc/damage; to wreck. Today the phrases are usually expressed as ‘play the devil.’ But how ‘gooseberry’ became associated with the devil is not clear, at least to me.
<1869 “You go and play OLD GOOSEBERRY with your constitution, you know, pitch your liver to Old Harry, and make ducks and drakes of your nervous system;--why, bless my SOUL, you know, you'll be dead in two-two's! You will indeed.”—‘Long Odds’ by Marcus Clarke>

<1837 “Gubbs, a go-between or GOOSEBERRY. To ‘PLAY GOOSEBERRY’ is to give a pretext to two young people to be together.”—‘Devonshire Glossary’ by J. F. Palmer>

<1870 “GOOSEBERRY I may be . . . but, at all events, I won't be instrumental in making myself so.”—‘Red as a Rose’ by R. Broughton, I. page 169>

<1881 “Let the old woman choose between PLAYING GOOSEBERRY or loitering behind alone.”—‘Matrimony’ by W. E. Norris, I. page 21>

<1885 “‘Papa will have a lively time of it on the journey home,’ said Agnes to her mother, ‘PLAYING GOOSEBERRY to two sets.’”—‘Jephthah’s Daughter’ by Jane H. Spettigue, page 55>

<1889 “Madame didn't know a single word of English and was, therefore, admirably adapted . . . for enacting with effect the part of the common or garden GOOSEBERRY.”—‘The Tents of Shem’ by G. Allen, II. page 118>

<1898 “PLAYING GOOSEBERRY From Notes and Queries. PLAYING GOOSEBERRY or ‘TO PLAY GOOSEBERRY’ is common enough in connection with sweethearting. A lass arranges a walk with a lad, but for some reason she does not care to go alone, so she takes a friend, another girl, and the friend ‘PLAYS GOOSEBERRY.’ Sometimes the girl who is invited to share the walk refuses, saying , ‘Nay! I’m not going to PLAY GOOSEBERRY!’ The girls speak of the lad in this connection as ‘GOOSEBERRY FOOL.’ By the way the way, green gooseberries stewed with a little water, mashed, and sugar added, constitute ‘gooseberry fool.’”—‘New York Times,’ 19 June, page 17>

<1901 “GOOSEBERRY, noun. A person de trop; the third person who makes a ‘crowd.’”—‘Dialect Notes,’ Vol. II. page 141>

<1902 “I was quite accustomed to PLAYING GOOSEBERRY to Sara; it was my usual lot.”—‘A Girl Capitalist’ by Florence Bright, page 46>

<1914 “‘Don’t leave me for a moment,’ ‘I won’t, although believe me, the rôle of GOOSEBERRY is no cinch.”—‘The Perch’ by Atherton, page 187>

<1918 “He was not the moral special-constable; but another kind of man, who felt a shyness at PLAYING GOOSEBERRY to the private negotiations of a courting-couple. ‘Shops and Houses’ by Frank Swinnerton, page 135>

<1922 “Goneril, glowering at Regan’s present point of vantage, snaps out a curt, no’; she does not propose to be made to PLAY ‘GOOSEBERRY,’—rather stay with her husband!”—‘Modern Language Notes,’ Notes on King Lear, Vol. 37, No. 6, June, page 349>

<1930 “. . . indulged me with a grimace that expressed little anticipation of the pleasure she was likely to derive from PLAYING ‘GOOSEBERRY’ to Brenda and me.”—‘ Love's Illusion’ by John D. Beresford, page 222>

<1931 “‘GOOSEBERRY,’ a chaperon or one who ‘plays propriety’ with a pair of lovers, especially in ‘TO PLAY GOOSEBERRY.’”—‘New York Times,’ 4 November, page 20>

<1952 “She coaxed kitty to come with her. ‘Ah, I’m too old a hand to play GOOSEBERRY,’ said Kitty.”—‘New Yorker,’ 13 September, page 44>

<1960 “chandelle: tenir la – , to play Cupid; be an easy-going chaperone; . . . PLAY GOOSEBERRY; play the pander.”—‘The French Review,’ Vol. 34, No. 1, October, page 70>

<1981 “So she was PLAYING GOOSEBERRY to lovers here at Sky Lodge, but not for long!”—‘Half a World Away’ by Gloria Bevan, page 86>

<1999 “A Wedding guest turned down an invitation to stay with a newly-married couple because he didn't want to PLAY GOOSEBERRY . . .”—‘Sunday Mail’ (Glasgow, Scotland), 17 October>

<2006 “Fred is growing increasingly concerned about going on the cruise with Bev and eventually bottles out. Bev puts a brave face on it but is upset that she will be PLAYING GOOSEBERRY to Liz and Vernon.”— 8 January>
As for GOOSEGOG (also GOOSEGOB), I couldn’t find much, other than that it first appeared in print in 1823 as a synonym for ‘gooseberry,’ the fruit, where the ‘gog’ or ‘gob’ meant ‘lump.' Partridge lists it as also meaning ‘homely’ since the mid-19th century.

And speaking of ‘scraping’ (as in ‘what you scrape off your shoe’) the 19th century practice of ‘gogging’ (from the verb ‘gog’) was ‘the old sea punishment of scraping a man’s tongue with hoop-iron for profanity.’ It is said to derive from or be cognate with Lancashire ‘gog,’ a gag for the mouth.
<1823 GUSEGOG, a gooseberry—also gew-gog.”—‘Suffolk Words and Phrases’ by E. Moore>

<circa 1825 “GOOSE-GOG, a gooseberry; particularly when ripe.”—‘The Vocabulary of East Anglia’ (1830) by R. Forby>

<1916 “Gertie's growing GOOSEGOGS for the Ghurkas.”—‘ The Vermilion Box’ by E. V. Lucas, xcix>

<1979 “. . . Scottish dialect equivalents for an English vocabulary item such as ‘gooseberry,’ which appears in different areas as groser, grozet, gudgock, goosie, GOOSEGOB, grozert or goosegab, . . . “—review of ‘The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland’ by Mather and Speitel, in ‘The Geographical Journal,’ Vol. 145, No. 3, November, page 507>
(Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Dictionary of American Regional English, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, Fruit Cakes & Couch Potatoes by Ammer)

Ken – June 24, 2007


Post by Bobinwales » Mon Jun 25, 2007 10:19 am

Gog in Welsh is a slang abbreviation of “gogledd” meaning north, as Tony said it is a semi-derogatory term that we use in the South when we refer to North Walians.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales


Post by daverba » Sat Jul 21, 2007 9:11 pm

"Gooseberry-picker" was an early 19th century euphemism for "chaperone," presumably because it described what chaperones did while their charges did something else.
From: ... dictionary

A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, compiled and edited by Barrere and Leland (1890)
Gooseberry (common), a canard, or a hoax.

Gooseberry, doing; or picking; (popular), to act as chaperone or escort to young couples on occasions when otherwise their being together would not be quite the thing. The chaperone is supposed to pick your berries.

Gooseberry-pickers (common), sharp children, who are ostensibly placed in charge of their elder sisters when the latter go out shopping, but who are in reality a check on any chance of flirtation (Hotten).

Goosegog (common), a gooseberry. In some dictionaries this is erroneously claimed as a mere provincialism.
Signature: "Say any word, and I'll tell you how the root of that word is Greek." - Gus Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Post Reply