Well I’ll be Gobsmacked!

Recently while reading an English novel (i.e. a novel from the UK not one written in English) I encountered the word gobsmacked. I was dumbfounded so I looked it up on the web. Now I know that, not only was I dumbfounded, I was, in fact, gobsmacked!

Q] From W S McCollom: “I was looking at a UK magazine and ran across gobsmack. What can you tell me about this term?”

[A] It’s a fairly recent British slang term: the first recorded use is only in the eighties, though verbal use must surely go back further. The usual form is gobsmacked, though gobstruck is also found. It’s a combination of gob, mouth, and smacked. It means “utterly astonished, astounded”. It’s much stronger than just being surprised; it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks. It suggests that something is as surprising as being suddenly hit in the face. It comes from northern dialect, most probably popularised through television programmes set in Liverpool, where it was common. It’s an obvious derivation of an existing term, since gob, originally from Scotland and the north of England, has been a dialect and slang term for the mouth for four hundred years (often in insulting phrases like “shut your gob!” to tell somebody to be quiet). It possibly goes back to the Scottish Gaelic word meaning a beak or a mouth, which has also bequeathed us the verb to gob, meaning to spit. Another form of the word is gab, from which we get gift of the gab.

If you didn’t know, now you do.


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