About a month ago my friend, Sandra Kungle, posted this status update on her Facebook:
“Upper East Side, Hunter College at 68th and Lexington, 5 P.M Saturday afternoon.....SIX consecutive cab drivers refused to take a little old lady (me) to Penn Station......gobsmacked!”
Gobsmacked – what a great sounding word. But where did she get it and what does it mean?
Dedicated followers may remember that novelist Shirley Hazzard contributed quite a number of words to my evolving vocabulary project here. One of the reasons Hazzard’s word choices seem fresh to my ear is because she is British. More recently I’ve been reading another Brit: Mark Haddon, who has a contribution here today.
My friend Sandra first heard ‘gobsmacked’ from yet another British attraction: Susan Boyle.
In the British Isles, the word ‘gob’ is slang for mouth. (And I have no issue with slang, as will grow clearer over time, I expect.)
Thus, ‘gobsmacked’ means smacked in the mouth; in other words, speechless or astonished.
Sandra’s post caused the word ‘gobstopper’ to pop into my mind, but again I didn’t know where the word came from or what it meant. A stopper for the mouth? Could it mean something like ‘put a sock in it’? That’s an expression I ruefully admit I’ve used a time or two.
When I tried to check the definition for ‘gobstopper’ however, I came up so empty handed I concluded I’d dreamed the word up myself.
So I moved on. But I happen to be working on a review of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Among Haddon’s earlier work I find a children’s book called Gilbert’s Gobstopper! Turns out a gobstopper is a large, hard, round confection; state-side, we called it a jawbreaker.
Last but not least, in locating the meaning of ‘gobstopper,’ I found this great alternative for ‘spoon’: ‘gobstick.’