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This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.

Gab

[gæb]

verb (used without object)

1. To talk excessively or idly, esp about trivial matters; gossip; chatter

noun

2. Idle talk; chatter.

3. A hook or open notch in a rod or lever that drops over the spindle of a valve to form a temporary connection for operating the valve

Etymology

c.1200, via Scottish and northern England dialect, from Old Northumbrian gabba “to mock,” or Old French gabber “mock, boast,” both probably ultimately imitative.

c1800, variant of Northern dialect gob  mouth, probably from Irish Gaelic gob  beak, mouth

Gabby first attested 1719; gabfest “session of conversation” is 1897 Amer.Eng. slang.

Gift of the Gab: from 1860s, ability to speak effortlessly, glibly, or persuasively

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Have you got the gift of the gab?

I have a love of monosyllabic words with plosives in them. They tend to be onomatopoeic, like blog, and they tend to sound amusing if you think about them too much.

Gab is no exception. It’s onomatopoeic; you can imagine inane chatter in a comic strip being drawn as “gab gab gab gab gab”.

It’s very fitting (and surely no coincidence) that it’s related to the name of this young lady:

Gabby Gabrielle

Now my favourite part of the dictionary definition for gab is the etymology

c.1200, via Scottish and northern England dialect, from O.N. gabba “to mock,” or O.Fr. gabber “mock, boast,” both probably ultimately imitative

Now, we all know that the best words started North of the Scottish/English border, but this is interesting on another level. Celtic and Pictish used to be the languages used in Scotland, until these died out because of Gaelic coming in from the West and Old English coming up from the South. After South East Scotland – and much of the rest of it – had adopted the Old Northumbrian dialect of English, it started moving in the other direction. Politics being the main reason, Scottish English and English English developed in different directions. Scottish English had influences from several different languages, including Scandinavian ones, German, and French. Most words which are seen as Scottish slang came from elsewhere.

Gab was one of them. It’s fascinating that a word came from France, was adapted in Scotland, before making it to England.

c1800, variant of Northern dialect gob  mouth, probably from Irish Gaelic gob  beak, mouth

… Or perhaps not.

Another fantastic thing about language and words is that for every word there are a dozen “origins”, each with an equal say. Because a lot of historical linguistics is guesswork (though don’t tell anyone I said that…) there are commonly several etymolines for a given word.

For Gab, it’s clear it came from Scotland or Northern England, but how it got there is still up for debate.

Gabby first attested 1719; gabfest “session of conversation” is 1897 Amer.Eng. slang.

American readers: do you actually use the word gabfest? Please tell me you do! What a fantastical word! This is possibly my favourite part of the whole entry…

Gift of the Gab: from 1860s, ability to speak effortlessly, glibly, or persuasively

And finally, an idiom which makes use of the word, and use of alliteration: do you have the gift of the gab?

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Possibly as a means to avoid The Handbook of Language Variation and Change which is lying next to me, I have done a little Feng-Shui on my Wednesday’s Wonderful Words posts. The outcome, hopefully, is that they have the same content but are formatted more read-ably. Check them out!

On top of this, I have decided to let you guys have more input into my blog: whichever word gets the most votes will be the word I write on in my next Wonderful Words posts.

I have narrowed it down to three, but you can add your own.

There is a criteria, being:

  1. The word must start with H (I’m working my way through the alphabet).
  2. The word must be well known. By this I don’t mean used every day, but a word which the majority of readers will have heard of. As much as learning uncommon words is fun, I find learning new things about known words is much more interesting.
  3. The word must be interesting in some way. All the words I’ve written on so far have something interesting I can say about them, in terms of phonetics or phonology, accents or dialects, meanings or definitions, or etymology.

I’ll leave the rest of it up to you!

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