“Gobshite”

Nancy Friedman asks, “Is Charles Pierce the only U.S. journalist who uses gobshite?” She provides a link to an Esquire Magazine politics blog post by Pierce, titled “What Are the Gobshites Saying These Days?”

I was not familiar with the term, but having previously covered gobsmacked (wherein gob means “mouth”) and shite, I could figure out that it means someone out of whose gob comes shite. The OED confirms the meaning and notes that it’s “chiefly Irish English” and (thanks!) “derogatory.” The first citation is from Hugh Leonard’s 1973 play “Da“: “Hey God, there’s an old gobshite at the tradesmen’s entrance.”

(Interestingly, the OED reports an earlier U.S. Navy use, meaning “enlisted seaman,” with this 1910 quote: “You can imagine all the feelin’s In a foolish ‘gobshite’s’ breast.”)

In answer to Nancy’s question, I would have to say, actually, yes. When I searched for the word in the Lexis-Nexis database of U.S. newspapers, going back to the 1980s, I was initially surprised to find fifty-six hits. But a few were references to or quotes from Ireland, and most of the rest were references to a New England-based band called The Gobshites. The most recent, from August 2012, was a quote from a”political observer” named Charlie Cooke. He was discussing, you guessed it, Charlie Pierce:

“Pierce’s hyperbole transcends mere disagreement, as does his dismissal of all those who dissent as ‘gobshites.’”

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9 responses to ““Gobshite”

  1. gobshite is more a description of character than a reflection of someone’s discourse. Gobshiteness encompasses more than simply talking shite, it implies a loquaciousness, lyrical style, opinion stating with premises not always supported by solid evidence.

  2. Well, I saw “Da” on Broadway back then, so I must have heard the word before, but I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve heard or seen it since, until now. Trying to find an “official” definition, I ran across this article of possible interest: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004633.html .

  3. It’s a fairly popular term in Ireland. Insulting, yes, but like many Hiberno-English pejoratives it’s also occasionally used with some affection (as for example when someone you’re fond of is too generous or compliant, or is simply talking rubbish). More often, though, no affection is intended, and the word serves more generally to refer to a “fool”, a “useless eejit”, or someone talking shite.

    Etymologically, this English gob may have come from Irish gob “mouth, beak”. Bernard Share, in Slanguage, mentions British dialectal gawby, gooby, etc. for comparison, and notes the excellent nominalisation gobshitery, which might translate loosely as “stupidity, nonsense, eejitry”. It has common currency in politics, where we have no end of said behaviour.

    It’s worth searching for “gobshite” on IrishTimes.com for some colourful recent examples of the word in use.

  4. A couple of years ago there was an Irish Daily Times front-page headline about their own Government that said simply: USELESS GOBSHITES (with the subheadline “Government in meltdown but STILL they cling to power”). This might have got a bit of international attention.

  5. “…this English gob may have come from Irish gob …”
    A long time ago, surely. (“gobstopper”, “shut your gob”, etc”.)

  6. In my head I hear “gobshite” in a Glasgow accent. That’s not incompatible with an Irish origin of course.

  7. It is also a very popular term of abuse in Liverpool, a city which, like Glasgow, has strong Irish connections.

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