“Gallimaufry”

@PeterSokolowsi of Merriam-Webster reports on Twitter that gallimaufry is, at this moment, the most looked-up word at the company’s website. Why? Because the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd used it in her column yesterday: “Just like the Bushes before him, Romney tried to portray himself as more American than his Democratic opponent. But America’s gallimaufry wasn’t knuckling under to the gentry this time.”

(Dowd NOOBed in her opening line: “It makes sense that Mitt Romney and his advisers are still gobsmacked by the fact that they’re not commandeering the West Wing.”)

The OED’s first meaning for gallimaufry (which is spelled various ways) is culinary, referring to a stew or ragout with various ingredients, but as early as 1551 it took on the meaning “A heterogeneous mixture, a confused jumble, a ridiculous medley,” which is how Dowd uses it, though with a more positive spin than the definition suggests.

A Google Ngram reveals that, except for a puzzling period between about 1875 and 1885, the word has historically been used more in Britain (red line) than the U.S. (blue line):


But I wouldn’t exactly call it a Britishism, Not One-Off or otherwise. It’s just that columnists need to say things in colorful ways, and Dowd is about as colorful as they come.

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14 responses to ““Gallimaufry”

  1. An awkward usage because, as you point out, the word derives from a French word for stew or ragout and food doesn’t really knuckle under, but in its extended meaning of hodgepodge or miscellany, particularly of unsavory people, it’s quite clever. Too clever? Should columnists send people to dictionaries? Not sure. Definitely not a NOOBism

  2. Born and educated in Britain: never heard of it.

    I’d call it a Dowdism rather than a Britishism.

  3. Not a Britishism, but there is a reference in Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” to a “dance which the wenches call a gallimaufry of gambols.” That’s the only usage I was familiar with.

  4. Born and reared in Ireland; grew up hearing it but, since this was in a rural area, these and other expressions were considered old-fashioned and, indeed, a sign that one was a yokel or rustic by the more up-to-date and ‘with-it’ town dwellers.

  5. NOOB or not, “gallimaufry” is a word I’ve long loved, most especially for its tendency to elicit puzzled stares from one’s listener (or in this case, dictionary look-ups from NY Times readers). My admiration for this word goes back to its use by a kindly and brilliant professor here when he referred to his massive unpublished manuscript as “A Gallimaufry of Materials for use in My Philosophy Courses.” I think it should always be employed with a twinkle in the eye, in the spirit of gleeful logophilia.

  6. I loved revisiting gallimaufry – a great word that has been with me (Brit) for – oops – a long time! But had to go look up “bogarting”. I know, a US coin but totally new to me as of her article. Did it catch others unaware? I know not the forum for this, just curious. Fascinated that the Humph inspired the word once I knew meaning.

  7. The period 1875-85 was the heyday of the Gallimaufry Party in the US, a successor to the Know-Littles. Their slogan was “We know just a little more than you do.”

  8. What a great word. I’m English and have never heard it, and I must admit I’ll be a little wary of using it for fear of putting it in the wrong context. And “gob-smacked”? – I wonder what Americans make of that since “gob” isn’t exactly commonplace.

  9. @ Peter Hirsch

    Gallimaufry isn’t the French word for ragout. The French word ragout is ragout ;)

  10. Gallimaufry has the look, to me, of an Irishism (do they count in your blog?) and I’ve only seen it in US contexts.

  11. Gallimaufry does look as if it might have been borrowed from Irish, but the authorities all insist it’s from French. Here’s Quinion’s article on the word: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gal1.htm

  12. I have a question about a NOOB that I’m not sure you’ve covered yet (if you have, sorry!). Many Brits say “have done” in place of just saying “have.” For example, today on Twitter, Bob Harris of the BBC tweeted: “Absolutely bloody love the BBC. Always have done. As proud to be doing programmes today as I was when I first broadcast in 1970.” We Americans, on the other hand, would have just said, “always have.” Do you concur that this is a NOOB?

    Thanks!

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