The word gobemouche comes to us directly from French, in which it’s a combination of gober (to swallow) and mouche (a fly). For this reason, the common bird known in English as a flycatcher is known in French-speaking areas as the gobemouche. And I suppose it’s with that sense in mind — the figurative swallowing of a small insect (representing a thing, such as a bit of news, that should not by swallowed by any decent human being) — that the term in English describes what boils down to gullibility or credulity.
For a strange reason I won’t get into, I happen to have 3,317 “friends” on Facebook. This gives me quite a vantage point from which to regularly observe the varieties of personalities in the world and what they’ll readily believe (assuming most of my friends are actual people ant not, say, Russian bots). Sadly, the gobemouche (I believe pronounced gobe-moosh) archetype is not only alive and well, but actually thriving.
One such friend posted something during this pandemic that asserted not only that COVID-19 is a government conspiracy, but that it’s (1) a kind of red herring meant to cover up the national implementation of evil 5G technology, and (2) the only enlightened individual in the government (who realizes this evil) is Donald Trump, who has unleashed his proprietary counter-measures under the code name CovFeFe, which clearly is “an alloy of Cobalt, Vanadium and Iron creating a magnetic material [that] will facilitate many innovative technological advances for our future including space travel!”
Wacky as the pathological gobemouche among us are, at least they can be entertaining, I suppose.
The word entered into English use probably around 1818, but I though I’d show an example from William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1852 novel Men’s Wives (cited in my OED as being from 1837). In what I believe is the opening book, called The Ravenswing, he writes a fine scene in which one character is bamboozling a more gullible character:
One final interesting note is the existence of another highly similar word (and not listed in the OED), gobermouch. According to a BBC web site, this is an old Irish slang word for a meddling busybody. While the meaning differs, it nevertheless seems related in terms of etymology, though I didn’t see any history for it listed anywhere. It does open the possibility of a rare French-Irish character who is both gullible and meddling, a gobemouche gobermouch. Quite a mouthful there.
And that’ll do it for this episode — the 100th such write-up in the Wonderful Words, Defined series! And don’t worry; I’m not trying to convince anyone based on my word alone. Whether you’re a gobemouche or not, you can verify that claim right here on the home page of the series.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.