Gibberish, also called jibber-jabber or gobbledygook, is speech that is (or appears to be) nonsense. It may include speech sounds that are not actual words,[1] or language games and specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders.[2]

"Gibberish" is also used as an imprecation to denigrate or tar ideas or opinions the user disagrees with or finds irksome, a rough equivalent of "nonsense", "folderol", or "claptrap". The implication is that the criticized expression or proposition lacks substance or congruence, as opposed to simply being a differing view.

The related word jibber-jabber refers to rapid talk that is difficult to understand.[3]


The etymology of gibberish is uncertain. The term was first seen in English in the early 16th century.[4] It is generally thought to be an onomatopoeia imitative of speech, similar to the words jabber (to talk rapidly) and gibber (to speak inarticulately).[5][6]

It may originate from the word jib, which is the Angloromani variant of the Romani language word meaning "language" or "tongue". To non-speakers, the Anglo-Romany dialect could sound like English mixed with nonsense words, and if those seemingly-nonsensical words are referred to as jib then the term gibberish (pronounced "jibberish") could be derived as a descriptor for nonsensical speech. Another theory is that gibberish came from the name of a famous 8th century Persian alchemist, Jābir ibn Hayyān, whose name was Latinized as Geber. Thus, gibberish was a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon and allegorical coded language used by Jabir and other alchemists.[7][8][9]

A discredited alternative theory asserts that it is derived from the Irish word gob or gab ("mouth")[10] or from the Irish phrase Geab ar ais ("back talk, backward chat").[11] The latter Irish etymology was suggested by Daniel Cassidy, whose work has been criticised by linguists and scholars.[12][13][14] The terms geab and geabaire are certainly Irish words, but the phrase geab ar ais does not exist, and the word gibberish exists as a loan-word in Irish as gibiris.[15]

The term gobbledygook was coined by Maury Maverick, a former congressman from Texas and former mayor of San Antonio.[16] When Maverick was chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation during World War II, he sent a memorandum that said: "Be short and use plain English. ... Stay off gobbledygook language."[17][18] Maverick defined gobbledygook as "talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words." The allusion was to a turkey, "always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ridiculous pomposity."[19][20]



The term "gobbledygook" has a long history of usage in politics. Nixon's Oval Office tape from June 14, 1971, showed H. R. Haldeman describing a situation to Nixon as "... a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: You can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say."[21] President Ronald Reagan explained tax law revisions in an address to the nation with the word, May 28, 1985, saying that "most didn’t improve the system; they made it more like Washington itself: Complicated, unfair, cluttered with gobbledygook and loopholes designed for those with the power and influence to hire high-priced legal and tax advisers."[22] In 2017, US Supreme Court justice John Roberts dismissed quantitative sociological reasoning as "gobbledygook" in arguing against any numerical test for gerrymandering.[23]

Michael Shanks, former chairman to the National Consumer Council of Great Britain, characterizes professional gobbledygook as sloppy jargon intended to confuse nonspecialists: "'Gobbledygook' may indicate a failure to think clearly, a contempt for one's clients, or more probably a mixture of both. A system that can't or won't communicate is not a safe basis for a democracy."[24]

In acting

Using gibberish whilst acting can be used as an exercise in performance art education.[25] Another usage of gibberish is as part of Osho's "Gibberish meditation"[26] which has been derived from an old Sufi practice.

Other terms and usage

The terms officialese or bureaucratese refer to language used by officials or authorities. Legalese is a closely related concept, referring to language used by lawyers, legislators, and others involved with the law. The language used in these fields may contain complex sentences and specialized jargon or buzzwords, making it difficult for those outside the field to understand.[27] Speakers or writers of officialese or legalese may recognize that it is confusing or even meaningless to outsiders, but view its use as appropriate within their organization or group.[28]

Bafflegab is a synonym, a slang term referring to confusing or a generally unintelligible use of jargon.[29]

See also


  1. Robertson, J.P.S.; Shamsie, S.J. (1959). "A systematic examination of gibberish in a multilingual schizophrenic patient". Language and Speech. Sage. 2 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1177/002383095900200102. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  2. Laycock, D. (1972). "Towards a typology of ludlings, or play-languages". Linguistic Communications: Working Papers of the Linguistic Society of Australia. 6: 61–113.
  3. Stevenson, Angus; Lindberg, Christine A. (2010). jibber-jabber. New Oxford American Dictionary. Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 978-0-19-539288-3.
  4. Chantrell, Glynnis (2002). The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-19-863121-9.
  5. "gibberish". Oxford English Dictionary (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2013.
  6. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  7. Seaborg, Glenn T. (March 1980). "Our heritage of the elements". Metallurgical and Materials Transactions B. Springer Boston. 11 (1): 5–19. doi:10.1007/bf02657166.
  8. Jack, Albert (2011). It's a Wonderful Word: The Real Origins of Our Favourite Words. London, UK: Random House UK. ISBN 978-1847946690.
  9. Quinion, Michael (3 Oct 2015). "Gibberish". World Wide Words. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  10. Mackay, Charles (1887). A Glossary of Obscure Words and Phrases in the Writings of Shakspeare and his contemporaries Traced Etymologically to the ancient language of the British people as spoken before the irruption of the Danes and Saxons. S. Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. pp. 183–184. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  11. Cassidy, Daniel (2007). "A Dictionary of Irish-American Vernacular". How the Irish Invented Slang: The secret language of the crossroads. CounterPunch. pp. 155–156. ISBN 978-1-904859-60-4.
  12. Brady, Michael Patrick (17 October 2007). "How the Irish Invented Slang". PopMatters. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  13. Barrett, Grant (9 November 2007). "Humdinger of a Bad Irish Scholar". Archived from the original on 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
  14. Zwicky, Arnold (9 November 2007). "Gullibility in high places". Language Log. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  15. Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. An Gúm. 1992. p. 630. ISBN 978-1-85791-037-7.
  16. Maverick and Gobbledygook (minicast) (audio). A Way with Words. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  17. Maverick, Maury (24 March 1944). "Memorandum from Maury Maverick to Everybody in Smaller War Plants Corporation". The National Archives Catalog. US National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 21 January 2016. Subject: Lengthy memoranda and gobbledygook language. Be short and use plain English.
  18. "Gobbledygook? Lay off it, Maverick says". Pittsburgh Press. 31 March 1944. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  19. Maverick, Maury (21 May 1944). "The case against 'Gobbledygook'". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 January 2016. People asked me how I got the word. I do not know. It must have come in a vision. Perhaps I was thinking of the old bearded turkey gobbler back in Texas who was always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ridiculous pomposity. At the end of his gobble there was a sort of gook.
  20. Gartner, Michael (26 May 1985). "Gobbledygood". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  21. Wheen, Francis (2010). Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia. Public Affairs. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-00-744120-4.
  22. "Simpson's contemporary quotations". Archived from the original on 7 December 2008.
  23. Roeder, Oliver (17 October 2017). "The Supreme Court is allergic to math". FiveThirtyEight.
  24. "Contemporary Quotes". October 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  25. Spolin, Viola (1999). Improvisation for the Theater: A handbook of teaching and directing techniques (3rd ed.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0810140098.
  26. "Gibberish and Let-Go". Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  27. Garner, Bryan A. (2009). Garner on Language and Writing. American Bar Association. ISBN 978-1-61632-679-1. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  28. Czarniawska, Barbara (1997). Narrating the Organization: Dramas of Institutional Identity. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-13229-7. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  29. "bafflegab". Retrieved 4 February 2014.
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