What’s in your trunk?

Dear Word Detective: I recently looked up the word “gonzo” (as in “gonzo journalism”) and was surprised to see the the origin of the word was listed as “unknown.” I would think that it likely originated in the beatnik or jazz communities. Since I couldn’t find it in your archives, could you shed some light on this question, man? — Michael Hooning, Seattle, WA.

Go ahead, make me feel old. It’s bad enough that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock (the real one) in 1969, which I attended, if that’s the right word. Incidentally, I noticed the other day that Target has apparently bought the rights to the Woodstock legend (or whatever), and is now offering everything from toothpaste to beach sandals festooned with that dippy bird-on-a-guitar logo.


Beware the bats

I mention Woodstock because the word “gonzo” first appeared in print just two years later, in 1971, in an article written by journalist Hunter S. Thompson for Rolling Stone magazine describing two trips to Las Vegas taken by Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta. Thompson’s article was later expanded and published in 1972 as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.” No brief summary can possibly do justice to “Fear and Loathing,” but Wikipedia’s stab at a synopsis is as good as any: “The [story] revolves around journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they arrive in 70’s Las Vegas to report on the Mint 400 motorcycle race. However, they soon abandon their work and begin experimenting with a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, cocaine, mescaline, and cannabis. This leads to a series of bizarre hallucinogenic trips, during which they destroy hotel rooms, wreck cars, and have visions of anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while ruminating on the decline of American culture.” The book was an immediate best seller and remains a seminal work in what became known as “gonzo journalism,” defined dryly by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a type of committed, subjective journalism characterized by factual distortion and exaggerated rhetorical style.” “Gonzo” is also used as an adjective meaning “bizarre” or “crazy.”

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