Saturday, September 03, 2005

Gooney Word

I ran across the word goon in some thriller yesterday. Despite its age, goon hasn’t disappeared from our language or been co-opted for some politically correct cause.

In a way, I grew up with the word: Bob Fusillo introduced me to “The Goon Show” when I was his student at University. How can you not love a professor who had (in the mid-60s) reel-to-reel tapes of a startling British radio show that started at the beginning of the 50s. The first real alternative humor show starred Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Spike Milligan as The Goons, with musical interludes. (Click
www.thegoonshow.co.uk for a look at the hilarious past.)

It would be nice to believe that goon comes from the obsolete word gony or gooney, words for “simpleton” and “booby” that pop up as far back at the 1580s. Gooney is also a sailor’s word for the albatross…which came down to us as the slag term for the C47 aircraft, the “gooney bird.” My edition of the OED is elderly, and goon itself does not appear.


Somewhere along the way, goon changed itself from a simpleton to a thug. Think Popeye. Encarta credits the word’s transformation to “Alice the Goon,” the Sea Hag's hulking bodyguard from cartoonist EC Segar. Alice loomed over others, speaking a language of squiggled lines as she carried out the Sea Hag's evil bidding. Her first appearance was in 1933-34's Plunder Island, a 32-week-long Sunday page continuity. (Click
www.netherworld.com.)

So by the time that Hyman Goldman’s edition of Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo is published in 1950, a goon is “A hired practitioner of the art of assault and mayhem, retained by unethical strike-beating agencies, unions, and management; a member of a private company police force.”

His example (page 84): “Take a couple of them goons, wreck every truck pulling out, and give the drivers a workout (beating).”

Your assignment today is to Google goon. See what you find – and if you download some clips from “The Goon Show,” you might even laugh out loud. Which meaning, after all, explains the title of the show?

1 comment:

baron_re said...

Howdy,
I am enjoying your blog dad, you have such a way with words - that clearly I did not inherit.
I now have no car, you said set a goal, I did, and now it's gone. Stange yet nice at the same time. Thanks so much for your and moms patience as I worked the problem.
I have been following the progress, or lack there of, in New Orleans, and am saddened to hear about the people of an amazing town I love. I am trying to figure out what I can do from here.
I am excited to see you both soon.
Love,
your dot.