Giblets

Unless, as Fat Freddy Freekowtski once explained about the turkey, “It was already stuffed.”

Dear Word Detective: I grew up hearing and using the word “jiblettes” for something small. For example, “There were jiblettes of paper all over the floor.” I’m not sure of the spelling, “jiblettes” or “jiblets,” we just used the word. I have never seen it written and cannot find it in a dictionary. — PJ Mahan.

That’s an interesting question, and it led me down a fairly weird path for a few minutes.  You had, understandably, spelled the word in question “jiblette,” and that made me wonder, briefly, if it might be connected to “jib” (sail), perhaps likening those scraps of paper to tiny sails. I think I deserve five points for imagination on that one, but I’m glad the answer is much simpler. The word you’re seeking is “giblets,” which is pronounced “jiblets” (and in fact “jiblette” was a common spelling in the 18th century).

“Giblet” first appeared in English in the early 14th century, drawn from the Old French “gibelet,” meaning a stew made of game (related to the modern French “gibelotte,” rabbit stew). The initial meaning in English was “an inessential appendage,” and from there “giblet” moved on to mean “garbage” or “entrails.” By the 16th century “giblet,” usually in the plural form “giblets,” meant the entrails and other bits of a goose, turkey, etc., that are removed before cooking. This is the common meaning of “giblets” today, and turkeys raised in supermarkets usually have their “giblets” neatly tucked into a plastic bag and stowed inside for people who use them to make gravy, etc.

“Giblets” was also used in this “entrails” case in the same sense we use “guts” metaphorically today, i.e., to mean “courage or fortitude,” as well as more generally to mean “essence,” as in “to join giblets” meaning “to marry” (“If your ladyship’s not engaged, what’s the reason but we may join giblets without any pribble-prabble?” 1769).

All of these senses pretty clearly connect to the original “stew” sense of the French source, since entrails and such bits would make good ingredients for a stew. In the 17th century, however, a more general sense of “giblets” arose, this one meaning “odds and ends of little value,”  “bits and pieces” or, applied to a person, “someone of little importance; a contemptible person” (“Oh fie upon ‘em giblets!” 1638). This is almost certainly the same word as the “jiblettes” you remember being used to mean little scraps of “stuff.”

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