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Opinion

Gobbledygook and Maverick

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ -
An article in the monthly "American Heritage" mentions a memo written by Arthur M. Schlessinger, presidential assistant to John F. Kennedy: "Every Presidential message should be: (a) in English, (b) clear and trenchant in style, (c) logical in its structure, and (d) devoid of gobbledygook."

The word "gobbledygook" (according to that article) was coined in 1944 during World War II. The chairman of one of the wartime commissions (a former congressman from Texas) was tired of meetings at which people spoke of "maladjustments coextensive with problem areas" and "alternative but meaningful minimae." So he issued a memo to his subordinates. No more gobbledygook, he said. No more "programs finalizing contracts that stem from district, regional and Washington levels." No more words like "patterns effectuating dynamics." Any one using such words as "activation" or "implementation" would be shot.

Asked what "gobbledygook" meant, the Texas gentleman said he had been thinking of the turkeys in the farms. They made sounds like gobble and gook.

Among the chief offenders in this regard (says the article) are the armed services. The Pentagon has asked for bids for "aerodynamic personnel decelerators" (meaning parachutes). Or "interlocking slide fasteners" (zippers). Words also have been used like "wood interdental stimulators" (toothpicks). These are examples of goobledygook.

That former congressman from Texas was a wise man. He wanted things stated clearly and simply. So was Schlessinger’s advice regarding presidential messages: they should be clear, logical in structure, and devoid of gobbledygook. Good advice for all of us.

Incidentally the man who coined that word was named Maury Maverick. According to that same article, his grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick (1805-1870) owned cattle which he never branded. All other farmers branded theirs. So the unbranded cows were called "mavericks" and the word has come to mean someone who exhibits a high degree of independence.

AMERICAN HERITAGE

ARTHUR M

ARTICLE

EVERY PRESIDENTIAL

GOBBLEDYGOOK

JOHN F

MAURY MAVERICK

SAMUEL AUGUSTUS MAVERICK

SCHLESSINGER

WORLD WAR

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