[Ads-l] GIBBERISH -- antedating and note.

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Wed May 11 04:52:05 UTC 2016

The OED defines GIBBERISH as, "Unintelligible speech belonging to no known language, and supposed to be of arbitrary invention; inarticulate chatter, jargon. Often applied contemptuously to blundering or ungrammatical language, to obscure and pretentious verbiage, etc.," and provides a first citation from the interlude, _Youth_, for which it gives a publication date of c. 1557.

This can be antedated from John Palsgrave, _Lesclarcissement de la Langue Francoyse_ (1530), where we find (The table of Verbes, fol. 368):

    “I Speke a pedlars frenche or a gyberishe or any contrefait language / Ie iargonne. prime coniu. They speke a pedlars frenche amongest them selfe: Ilz iargonne[n]|t entre eulx.”

Palsgrave not only provides an antedating to the OED citation, but points to the close association, in its origin, of the term "gibberish" with not simply unintelligible language but with argot.    

In the (mostly bilingual) dictionaries up till at least 1700, "gibberish" is almost invariably associated with national varieties of argot, and this should be more fully stressed in the definition, and perhaps given as a separate initial entry.

This persists as late as Samuel Johnson's _Dictionary_ of 1755, where "gibberish" is defined as: "Cant; the private language of rogues and gipsies; words without meaning."

The association of "gibberish" with argot can be found in the following dictionaries:

    Claude Hollyband, A Dictionary French and English (1593)     
    John Florio, A World of Words (1598)    
    Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues    (1611)
    John Florio, Queen Anna's New World of Words (1611)
    Thomas Blount, Glossographia or a Dictionary (1656)    
    Edward Phillips, The New World of English Words    (1658)    
    John Wilkins, An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668)
    Elisha Coles, An English Dictionary (1676 )               
    Guy Miège, A New Dictionary French and English (1677)    

As one last point, while _Youth_ was, as the OED notes, published around 1557, the text  itself dates from c. 1510.  It is possible that in 1530, Palsgrave was drawing on an already-present meaning of "gibberish" as used to refer to clerical Latin, as found in _Youth_, where the text reads: "What me thynke ye be clerkyshe / For ye speake good gibbryshe."

Robin Hamilton

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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