Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gibberish is unintelligible, nonsensical, or meaningless language. Similarly, gibberish may refer to speech or writing that's needlessly obscure or pretentious. In this sense, the term is similar to gobbledygook.

Gibberish is often used in a playful or creative way—as when a parent speaks to an infant or when a child experiments with combinations of vocal sounds that have no meaning. The word itself is sometimes used as a term of disdain for a "foreign" or unknown language or for the speech of a particular individual (as in "He's talking gibberish").


Grammalot is a particular type of gibberish that was originally used by medieval jesters and troubadours. According to Marco Frascari, Grammalot "consists of a few real words, interspersed with nonsense syllables mimicking the sound utterances to convince the audience that it is a real known language." 


  • "Gliddy glup gloopy
    Nibby nabby noopy
    La la la lo lo.
    Sabba sibby sabba
    Nooby abba nabba
    Lee lee lo lo.
    Tooby ooby walla
    Nooby abba nabba
    Early morning singing song." (Chorus to "Good Morning Starshine," by Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni. Hair, 1967)
  • Thrippsy pillivinx,

    Inky tinky pobblebockle abblesquabs? — Flosky! beebul trimble flosky! — Okul scratchabibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity amsky flamsky ramsky damsky crocklefether squiggs.

    Flinkywisty pomm

    Slushypipp (Edward Lear, letter to Evelyn Baring, 1862)
  • "God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married! 
    So much to do! like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night 
    and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books . . .
    And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle 
    Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust." (Gregory Corso, "Marriage," 1958)
  • Lt. Abbie Mills: Chopping down a Christmas tree?

    Ichabod Crane: Altogether a nonsensical concept. Celebrating Yuletide with a titular display of lumber.

    Lt. Abbie Mills: Wow. Bah-humbug to you too, Ebenezer.

    Ichabod Crane: That was all gibberish.

    Lt. Abbie Mills: Scrooge. A Dickensian character. A grump. ("The Golem," Sleepy Hollow, 2013)

  • "Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind:
    Says suum, mun, ha, no, nonny.
    Dolphin my boy, my boy, sessa! let him trot by." (Edgar in William Shakespeare's King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4)
  • "I encourage teachers to speak in their own voices. Don't use the gibberish of the standards writers." (Jonathan Kozol in an interview with Anna Mundow, "The Advocate of Teaching Over Testing." The Boston Globe, October 21, 2007) 

Etymology of Gibberish

- "The exact origin of the word gibberish is unknown, but one explanation traces its beginnings to an eleventh-century Arab named Geber, who practiced a form of magical chemistry called alchemy. To avoid getting into trouble with church officials, he invented strange terms that prevented others from understanding what he was doing. His mysterious language (Geberish) may have given rise to the word gibberish."

(Laraine Flemming, Words Count, 2nd ed. Cengage, 2015)

- "Etymologists have been scratching their heads over [the origin of the word gibberish] almost since it first appeared in the language in the middle 1500s. There’s a set of words—gibber, jibber, jabber, gobble and gab (as in gift of the gab)—that may be related attempts at imitating incomprehensible utterances.

But how they arrived and in what order is unknown."

(Michael Quinion, World Wide Words, October 3, 2015)

Charlie Chaplin's Gibberish in The Great Dictator 

- "[Charlie] Chaplin's performance as Hynkel [in the film The Great Dictator] is a tour de force, one of his greatest performances of all, and certainly his greatest performance in a sound film.* He is able to get around the arbitrary and limited 'meaning' which dialogue implies by screeching his vaudevillian German doubletalk of utter gibberish--the result is sound without defined meaning...the finest weapon by which to satirize the disturbing and disturbed speeches of Hitler as seen in the newsreels."

(Kyp Harness, The Art of Charlie Chaplin. McFarland, 2008)

- "Gibberish captures that foundational static out of which wording arises...[I]t is my view that gibberish is an education onto the relation of sound to speech, sense to nonsense; it reminds us of the primary phonetic noise by which we learn to articulate, and from which we might draw from again, in acts of parody, poetry, romance, or storytelling, as well as through the simple pleasures of a disordered semantic.

"Here I'd like to bring into consideration Charlie Chaplin's use of gibberish in the film The Great Dictator. Produced in 1940 as a critical parody of Hitler, and the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, Chaplin uses the voice as a primary vehicle for staging the brutal absurdity of the dictator's ideological views. This appears immediately in the opening scene, where the first lines spoken by the dictator (as well as by Chaplin, as this was his first talking film) wields an unforgettable force of effusive gibberish:

Democrazie schtunk! Liberty schtunk! Freisprechen schtunk!

Chaplin's nonsensical enactments throughout the film highlight language as a material susceptible to mutation, appropriation, and poetical transfiguration that no less delivers potent meaning. Such oral moves on the part of Chaplin reveal to what degree gibberish may perform to supply the thrust of speech with the power of critique."

(Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary. Bloomsbury, 2014)

Frank McCourt on Gibberish and Grammar

"If you said to someone, John store to the went, they'd think it was gibberish.

"What's gibberish?

"Language that makes no sense.

"I had a sudden idea, a flash. Psychology is the study of the way people behave. Grammar is the study of the way language behaves...

"I pushed it. If someone acts crazy, the psychologist studies them to find out what's wrong. If someone talks in a funny way and you can't understand them, then you're thinking about grammar.

Like, John store to the went...

"No stopping me now. I said, Store the to went John. Does that make sense? Of course not. So you see, you have to have words in their proper order. Proper order means meaning and if you don't have meaning you're babbling and the men in the white coats come and take you away. They stick you in the gibberish department of Bellevue. That's grammar."

(Frank McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir. Scribner's, 2005)

The Lighter Side of Gibberish

Homer Simpson: Listen to the man, Marge. He pays Bart's salary.

Marge Simpson: No, he doesn't.

Homer Simpson: Why don't you ever support my gibberish? I'd do it if you were stupid.
("How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window?" The Simpsons, 2010)

Further Reading

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Gibberish." ThoughtCo, Mar. 22, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 22). Gibberish. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Gibberish." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).