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.

14 comments on this post.
  1. Dr. Goodword:

    The meaning of “goozle” still seems to be escaping people. Let’s say this definition, “throat”, were correct. What would be the lady from Tennesee mean by saying, “Whoa! That nearly burnt off mah throat!” Burn off my throat?

    I was raised in central North Carolina and have heard and used this word hundreds of times. In central North Carolina it means “uvula” and “uvula” fits perfectly the sentence quoted above.

  2. Rich:

    My mom is from New Orleans and has always used the expression “I feel like I been through the goozle pipe” to mean she felt worn out, in the same way some might say “I’ve been through the mill”.

    When asked what the goolze pipe is, she refers to the pipe often seen in cartoons, that has many twists and turns that characters sometimes are forced through for comic effect.

  3. H D Harrison:

    The Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson was known to have decapitated some Federal supporters with a butcher knife. Champ was said to have cut off one victim’s head and “jobbed” a tobacco stalk down his “goozle.”

  4. cee:

    i was just watching casablanca with a friend and this lady in the bar had quite a large adams apple for a woman and i said “that woman sure has a big goozle”, of course that flew over his head like a bird. funny how things like that stick with you for a lifetime.
    perhaps curious but not flicted
    from tennessee

  5. Kat:

    I learned the term “goozle snap” as a young child. When you put your pointer finger and thumb together and “flick” someone, you are giving them a goozle snap. I never thought much of the term until I meet my current boyfriend. He looked at me strangely when I used it and demonstrated. He claimed he’s never hard a finger snap called a goozle snap.

    I attempted to Google it (ha), thinking I’d surely find some evidence of the term. To my surprise, there is none! I asked my mom, and the only thing she knew is that it was somehow passed down from my maternal grandmother’s family. Now after reading this, I’m wondering where the family got it lol

  6. luvmygrands:

    My husband from Southeast Missouri calls the Adam’s Apple a “goozle pin”. I have laughed about that for years, but now find that is may be perfectly applicable.

  7. Nancy:

    My mom, and her mom and sisters, always used ‘goozle’ in the context of that point beyond which others shouldn’t see, for example “That blouse goes down to her goozle!” referring to a low cut neckline, or “Her skirt is cut up to her goozle” meaning a very high split or short skirt.

  8. mike:

    The goozle pipe stretches between your piehole and your gut. Everyone knows that.

  9. Veronica:

    My daddy always used it meaning throat. My husband has laughed at me for years for using this & accuses me of making it up. If I ever want to get a big laugh, when we play softball or go tubing on the lake or whatever sport, I can just say “Ow! That hit me right in the goozle!” Cracks them up every time. My family (including my husband) now use it often.

  10. Patricia Campbell:

    Its the throat, specifically the inside of. Born and raised in Tennessee.

  11. Gary:

    Howdy…… interesting conversation.
    I’m just turning 80 now and remember vividly my mom and dad both, who were from the Southeast, grabbing me lovingly as a very small child and saying
    “gimme some goozle poozle!” Then they pick me up and get under my chin with their mouth and gimme kisses on the goozle.

  12. Wm Hayes:

    Goozle is an Old English reference to the throat area. In the early 1900’s my family owned a drug store and compounded a salve that was similar to Vick’s Vapor Rub, which they named Goozlum. I still compound this salve, as it’s a superior product using Lanolin, coco butter, oil of wintergreen, camphor, and menthol.

  13. Jim:

    I’ve heard the term “goozle’ used in Maine as a ditch cut into a mudflat or the throat of a stream.

  14. kevin:

    Jackie tells me the (gooxle) is in the throat when you eat something that makes it tickle….

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