Hush your pups, boy.
Dear Word Detective: My grandmother, who was born in a small Tennessee town that doesn’t even warrant a dot on maps, once used the word “goozle” in a sentence. It was hilarious! She took a bite of a spicy piece of Popeye’s fried chicken, and exclaimed, “Whoa! That nearly burnt off mah goozle!” My brother and I obviously busted out laughing, but once we regained our composure, we asked what a “goozle” is. She motioned towards her throat, and advised that a “goozle” is a throat. Is this a real word? My grandmother never went to school, and grew up very poor, so one can’t help but wonder if she fabricated this word. — Mark Haney.
Well, what if she did? “Goozle” strikes me (to borrow from The Simpsons) as a perfectly cromulent word. Given that somebody, somewhere, had to cook up all the words we use every day, “goozle” is one of the better inventions I’ve seen. It certainly beats “infotainment.”
Wonderful. My spellchecker finds “infotainment” perfectly acceptable. Shoot me now.
In any case, your grandmother did not, in fact, invent “goozle.” According to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), “goozle” is well-established as a dialect term in the southern US meaning “throat” in general, or specifically the windpipe, gullet or Adam’s apple. The citations in DARE go back to the late 19th century, but “goozle” was almost certainly in use long before it made it into print, so it may be much older. Marjorie Rawlings used the term in her 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling (” If he [a hog] didn’t have no goozle, he couldn’t squeal.”). Other forms commonly used include “gozzle,” “gozzle pipe,” “goozem pipe” and “goozler.”
Interestingly, DARE also lists, as a synonym of “goozle” dating back to at least 1865, the word “google,” also meaning “throat.” The founders of the search engine Google have always claimed, of course, that they chose the name as a variation on “googol,” a math term meaning one followed by 100 zeros. But perhaps there was a meta-joke in there somewhere about people swallowing that “googol” story.
If we follow “goozle” back a bit further, we come to an interesting intersection with a far more common word, “guzzle.” Although we use “guzzle” today primarily as a verb meaning “to drink liquor rapidly or greedily,” as a noun it has been used since the mid-17th century to mean “throat” (and the word “guzzle” comes, in fact, from the Old French “gosier,” throat). So it’s evident that your grandmother’s “goozle” is simply a modified form of this fine Old French word for “throat.” Not bad for a small town in Tennessee.