What Is Gobbledygook in Language?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Gobbledygook is inflated, jargon-cluttered prose that fails to communicate clearly. Contrast with clarity and plain English. Also spelled gobbledegook.

Stephen R. Covey describes gobbledygook as "language that is so pompous, long-winded, and abstract that it is unintelligible" (Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, 2012).

The term gobbledygook was coined in 1944 by Texas lawyer Maury Maverick, who expressed disdain for the "gobbledygook language" of his colleagues. The word was inspired by the turkey, "always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity."

Examples and Observations:

  • "Gobbledygook or bureaucratese is another kind of doublespeak. Such doublespeak is simply a matter of overwhelming the audience with technical, unfamiliar words. When asked why U.S. forces lacked intelligence information on Grenada before they invaded the island in 1983, Admiral Wesley L. McDonald told reporters that 'We were not micromanaging Grenada intelligence-wise until about that time frame.'"
    (William Lutz, "The World of Doublespeak." Doublespeak: From "Revenue Enhancement" to "Terminal Living." Harper & Row, 1989)
  • "Where the combined value of the above payments before actual assimilation remains greater than the combined value of the payments after assimilation, the former level of pay will be protected. These protection arrangements apply to the combined value of payments before and after assimilation, not to individual pay components, excepting the provision relating to retention of existing on-call arrangements."
    ("Agenda for Change," Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, 2005)
  • "To the ordinary guy, all this is 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, and you can't rely on their judgment."
    (H.R. Haldeman, recording made in the Oval Office, June 14, 1971)
  • Gobbledygook in Sentence Structure
    "In sentence structure, gobbledygook is usually due to lack of time and care, as perhaps with the personal pension plan which defined 'foreign emoluments' as 'earnings of a person resident but not domiciled in the United Kingdom from duties performed wholly or partly in the United Kingdom for a non-resident employer.' It’s as clear as dirty dishwater, and perhaps more time should have been spent drafting it. Clear, concise writing cannot be done in a hurry, as the French writer Pascal realized when he once wrote to a friend, 'I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.'"
    (Jean Aitchison, The Language Web: The Power and Problem of Words. Cambridge University Press, 1997)
  • Adverse Effects of Gobbledygook
    "As doublespeak, gobbledygook may either substitute for a speaker's lack of knowledge or insight about a subject, or it may once again serve to confuse. . . .
    "In 1972, Ford Motor Company sent a letter to those who purchased the defective 1972 Mercury Montego: 'With respect to possible mechanical deficiencies, the rear axle bearings of the cars can deteriorate. Continued driving with a failed bearing could result in disengagement of the axle shaft and adversely affect vehicle control.'"
    (Ken Kirk, Writing for Readability. ASTD, July 2010)
  • Doctor Who Moments
    "Often when listening to football managers and coaches explain the game I find myself thinking of those moments in Dr Who when, with catastrophe approaching, Matt Smith suddenly announces, 'There's a good chance that if we can reverse the polarity on this lithium crystal then the magnetic vortex will suck the Daleks into a different time-space continuum and the planet will be saved. Has anybody got a hatpin?'
    "'Their midfield was playing off us,' the Time Lords of the dugout tell us as relegation hurtles towards our homes like a Zygon battle trireme carrying an explosive payload the size of Ronaldo's wallet. 'We need to get more offensive in the off-loading zone.' Frankly, we all know it is a pile of gobbledygook, but if it has the sheen of plausibility it is more fun to believe in it than not."
    (Harry Pearson, "Will Andy Carroll Prove the Difference That Destroys the Planet?" The Guardian, Nov. 12, 2010)
  • The Lighter Side of Gobbledygook
    "Oh, meltdown. It's one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus."
    (Charles Montgomery Burns in "Homer Defined," The Simpsons)

Pronunciation: GOB-ul-dee-GOOK

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Gobbledygook in Language?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/gobbledygook-language-term-1690903. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What Is Gobbledygook in Language? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/gobbledygook-language-term-1690903 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Gobbledygook in Language?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/gobbledygook-language-term-1690903 (accessed June 5, 2023).