A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 23, 2006
Gobbledygook (Maury Maverick WWII term)

World War II produced lots of bad bureaucrat-ese language in official memos. Maury Maverick (a former Texas Congressman and then chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation) was so frustrated that he issued a 1944 memo against “gobbledygook.” Maverick said that he didn’t know where the word came from—perhaps the “gobble, gobble” of a Texas turkey?

The Historical Dictionary of American Slang has “gobbledygoo” from 1938, meaning “gobble the goo” (a sexual slang term).

Using true Texas talk, Maverick’s 1944 memo stated: “Anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.”


Wikipedia: Maury Maverick
Fontaine Maury Maverick (October 23, 1895-June 7, 1954) was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Texas from January 3, 1935, to January 3, 1939. He is best remembered for his independence from the party and for coining the term “gobbledygook” after dealing with the New Deal agencies.

Maverick was born in San Antonio, Texas, the son of Albert and Jane (Lewis) Maverick. His grandfather was cattle rancher Samuel Maverick, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and the source of the word “maverick”. He studied at Texas Military Institute, the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Texas. He was admitted to the bar in 1916 and practiced law in San Antonio. He was a first lieutenant in the infantry in World War I and earned the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. In the 1920s, he was involved in the lumber and mortage businesses. From 1929 to 1931, he was the elected collector of taxes for Bexar County.

He was elected to the Seventy-fourth Congress in 1934 with support from the Hispanic population of his district, and re-elected to the Seventy-fifth. In the House, he was an ardent champion of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. He angered the conservative Democrats running the party back in Texas, including John Nance Garner, with his liberalism and his consistent support for civil rights. He was defeated in the primary for a third term in 1938. He returned to Texas where he was elected Mayor of San Antonio, again with support from minority voters, serving from 1939 to 1941, when the conservatives labelled him a Communist and defeated him. During World War II, he worked for the Office of Price Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and served on the War Production Board and the Smaller War Plants Corporation. After the war, he practiced law in San Antonio.

Wikipedia: Gobbledygook
The term was coined on March 30, 1944 by Maury Maverick, chairman of the United States Smaller War Plants Corporation. In a memo banning “gobbledygook language”, he wrote “anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot”. Maverick later used the word in the New York Times Magazine on May 21, 1944 as part of a further complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues. His inspiration, he said, was the turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity. At the end of his gobble, there was a sort of gook.”

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
gobbledygook n. [cf. GOBBLEDYGOO] pretentious of deceptive nonsense; MALARKEY; (specif.) language characterized by pomposity, circumlocution, or jargon. Now S.E. [Introduced in its specific sense by Maury Maverick, chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corp, early 1944.]

1944 Amer. N & Q (Apr.) 9: Gobbledygook talk: Maury Maverick’s name for the long high-sounding words of Washington’s red-tape language.
1944 Times (Apr. 10) 57: Maury Maverick, fluent, fiery but literate Texas talker, railed against what he called Washington’s “gobbledygook” language..."Anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.”
1944 M. Maverick in N.Y. Times Mag. (May 21) 11: Gobbledygook...People asked me how I got the word. I do not know. It must have come in a vision. Perhaps I was thinking of the old bearded turkey gobbler back in Texas.

30 March 1944, Washington Post, “The Federal Diary” by Jerry Kluttz, pg. 3:
Gobbledygook Language
Outlawed by Maverick

The most refreshing—and effective, I predict—memo ever written in the Federal service was handed out yesterday to employes of the Smaller War Plants Corporation. It was written by Maury Maverick, chairman and general manager, who is a refreshing person. The memo was entitled “LENGTHY MEMORANDA AND GOBBLEDYGOOK LANGUAGE.” It said: “Memoranda should be as short as clearness will allow. The Naval officer who wired M ‘Eighted sub—Sank game,’ told the whole story. Put the subject matter—the point—and even the conclusion, in the opening paragraph and the whole story on one page. Period! If a lengthy explanation, statistical matter, or such is necessary, use attachments.”

Now Maury gets hot. “Stay off the gobbledygook language. It only fouls people up. For the Lord’s sake, be short and say what you’re talking about. Let’s stop ‘pointing up’ programs, ‘finalizing’ contracts that ‘stem from’ district, regional or Washington ‘levels.’ There are no ‘levels’—local government is as high as Washington government. No more patterns, effectuating, dynamics. ANYONE USING THE WORDS ‘ACTIVATION’ OR ‘IMPLEMENTATION’ WILL BE SHOT.” That’s plain and simple language that everyone at SMPC can understand. And Maury means business. People who use the outlawed words in his presence are stopped and made to use simple language.

Maverick’s war on red-tape language has been simmering for 10 years. he has been around Washington for that long. But he reached the boiling point several days ago when he spent hours of his time trying to understand a report that had been written in bureaucratese by one of his assistants. Maury slammed the report in the wastebasket, grabbed the dictaphone and dictated the memo. “After that,” the chairman says, “I was relieved. I felt as though my soul had been cleansed. For years I have been confused and frustrated by this strange language that’s used around here.” The President would be wise if he took Maury’s memo and issued it as an order to all Federal agencies.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Saturday, December 23, 2006 • Permalink