The name of Hunter S. Thompson is rarely seen without being accompanied by the epithet “gonzo journalist.” What makes a journalist (or anything else, for that matter) “gonzo”?
It essentially means a style of first-person journalism, in which colorful writing takes priority over factual reporting. It frequently includes humor, exaggeration, sarcasm, and profanity.
Copping out, in typical fashion, Webster’s Collegiate says the phrase originated in 1971, but its origin is “unknown.” Unknown by Webster’s, perhaps, but others purport to have the inside skinny.
According to the Online Etymological Dictionary the term “gonzo” was first used around 1970 by Bill Cardoso, editor of the Boston Globe Sunday magazine. Wikipedia further amplifies this to report that Cardoso used the term to describe an article entitled “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” by Thompson, which appeared in Scanlan's Monthly.
Cardoso explained its origin as South Boston Irish slang for the last man standing after an all-night drinking binge. He said it was a corruption of the French Canadian gonzeaux, which inexplicably means “shining path.”
Wikipedia says another speculation is that the word was inspired by a 1960 song called “Gonzo” by New Orleans blues pianist James Booker. According to Booker’s biography, the title came from a drug-dealing character in a movie called The Pusher, inspired by a 1956 Evan Hunter novel of that title.
If you’re looking for a gonzo rhymester, look no further than the banks of Buffalo Bayou, where the Bard hangs out.
I like my gonzo in Gor-gonzo-la,
I like my coke in Coca-Cola,
I’m retro as to LSD—
Since DSL is fine with me.
And as for stuff like snow and smack,
To me, it’s all a crock of crack.