Printable Version
Pronunciation: gahn-zo Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Bizarre, outrageously unusual, very 'far out', out-of-sight, off the deep end.

Notes: This odd term first appeared in a 1971 article by William Cardoza of the Boston Globe in reference to journalist-novelist Hunter Thompson, author of the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson was a journalist who seemed out of control. His bizarre off-center reportage of the Kentucky Derby focused on the drugs, sex, and vulgar behavior of the attendees rather than the race at the center of other reporters' attention.

In Play: Gonzo is still an adjective skulking in the shadows of English, not yet fully outted except as the name of the purple Muppet on the children's TV show Sesame Street (Gonzo the Great). In colloquial US English, however, you hear it occasionally in phrases like this: "Sally Forth showed up at the party in a gonzo outfit that looked like something she picked up at a second-hand clothing store in the sixties."

Word History: Cardoza claimed that gonzo came from Boston slang, which means it probably originated from Italian gonzo "idiot, fool". This word goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root ghans- "goose", which became German Gans "goose", Spanish and Portuguese ganso "goose", and English gander, extended by the ever-popular -er suffix. The association of geese with dimwits is common in Indo-European languages, as we see in the English expression, "you silly goose". This sense became the dominant one in Italian and today it is the only meaning of gonzo. (The word for "goose" in Italian is currently oca). The sense of "outlandish" in Boston slang could have resulted from the misprision of the Italian word by the Irish-Catholics of Boston.

Dr. Goodword,

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