Monday, March 26, 2012

Great Googamooga, Indeed!

The New York Times recently ran the following correction:
“A report last Wednesday in the Off the Menu column rendered incorrectly the name of a food and music festival planned for Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in May. It is The Great GoogaMooga, not The Great Googa Mooga.”

Thank goodness The Times had the decency and the courage to admit its error and set everything right.  It is a newspaper of record, after all.  As I’m sure all educated people must be aware, “Googamooga” is one word, not two, although the festival planners’ idiosyncratic capitalization of the “M” must have thrown The Times copyeditors (if any) a curve.

For a more complete explanation of “Googamooga,” I am indebted to Howard Levy and his website  According to him, “Googamooga" is probably derived from African-American musicians’ jive talk. The term was in use around 1954 by rock 'n' roll D.J. Douglas "Jocko" Henderson. It later appeared in the lyric of the Cadets' recording of "Stranded in the Jungle," by Ernestine Smith and James Johnson, as follows:

            When I woke up and my head started to clear,
            I had a strange feeling I was with cooking gear,
            I smelled something cookin’ and I looked to see
            That's when I found out they was a-cookin’ me!
        Great Googamooga, let me outta here!

When combined with the word "great"—as in "great googamooga!"—it is an exclamation of either shock and dismay or of extreme appreciation, similar to "wow!" or "goodness gracious!” according to David Fairweather, a jazz musician.

An article online by a syndicated blues D.J. from Boulder, Colorado, known only as "The Red Rooster," suggests that the term originated with a Philadelphia-Baltimore area D.J., Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert, Jr.  Red Rooster also cites “Googamooga” in a 1953 recording by the Magic Tones and later on the Temptations' 1970 hit, "Ball of Confusion."

Well, I’m certainly glad to have that cleared up, and I’m sure The Times will be as well.

In case you plan to go, The Great GoogaMooga Festival will take place in Brooklyn May 19 and 20.  Its website defines the phrase thus:
n. an amusement park of food & drink; adj. something wonderfully great; excl. "oh my goodness!" or "how bout that!"

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou viewed the brouhaha with a jaundiced eye (In fact, he is jaundiced all over) and was uncharacteristically terse: 

            I really do not give a damn
            About the Googamooga,
            Instead, I’ll take a kilogram           
            Of Caspian Beluga.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Be the Best, Boy

In movie credits, which often seemingly last as long as the feature itself, there’s usually a credit for a “Best Boy.”  If you already know all you want to know about that term, you may click right now to a more instructional web site, such as  But if you’d like to know more, stay tuned.

In movie parlance a best boy is the chief assistant of either the gaffer or the key grip.

The gaffer is the head lighting technician, and the origin of the term is obscure.  One source says it is because he operates a gaff, a long pole fitted with hardware so that it can move overhead lights into different positions.  Gaff dates to 1656 as the Occitan word gaf, which meant a spearhead. 

(Incidentally, Occitan, sometimes called langue d’oc, is a Romance language that was once spoken in southern France.  It is distinguished from French, or langue d’ oïl, by the word used to mean “yes”—oc in Occitan and oïl in Old French.)

Others, however, say gaffer has nothing to do with a gaff, but stems from that word’s usage to mean “an old man” (just as gammer can mean an old woman, as in the sixteenth-century farce Gammer Gurton’s Needle ), probably a contraction of grandfather or godfather. Gaffer was subsequently used to mean a foreman or overseer on a work site, and hence to mean the chief of the lighting crew.  Or so some believe.

A grip, in theatrical usage, is a stagehand, a word first used in the 1880s, based on the manner in which backstage workers had to “grasp” or “grip” big pieces of scenery to move them.  In the motion picture world, a grip is responsible for moving cameras into the proper position, with the use of equipment like dollies, tracks, booms, cranes, camera cars, helicopters, airplanes, and trailers. The head grip is known as the key grip.

The term best boy has been used in the film business since the 1930s, and there are several theories about its origin.  One is that it was first used in the English apprentice system to refer to a promising apprentice who was ready to be promoted to journeyman.  Another source suggests that in pre-craft union days, it was common for technicians to be shared between departments, and the gaffer might ask the key grip for the loan of his “best boy,” or vice versa.  Another theory holds that a best boy was originally a term used by the captain of a sailing ship for his most able crewmember.  Sailors on shore leave were often hired to rig theatrical equipment, and the term may have come into usage that way. 

Best boy is gender neutral, although the term best girl is sometimes used informally. 

The Best Bard of Buffalo Bayou needs no introduction and will get none:

            The best boy has got to get better,
            For the best boy is not very good.
            The best boy is not a go-getter
            And can’t do what the best best boys should.

            The best boy believes he’s the best man,
            And his best girl — she helps him rehearse.
            But he still cannot do what the rest can—
            And the best boy’s best girl is far worse.    

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Say It’s Hamburger, and I Say the Hell With It

When I was about ten, I was taken to a fancy restaurant, perhaps for my birthday, and allowed to order anything I wanted (within reason, of course).  I scanned the elegant menu, and my eyes lighted on a dish that was new to me, having subsisted during my early years mainly on Spam, peanut butter, tuna fish, and bologna sandwiches. The entrée I craved had a name that rang with a Lucullan aura in my callow ears, and I conjured images of a delectable feast for an epicurean of noble lineage in a baronial English banquet hall. Even though I mispronounced it, I ordered it with anticipatory gusto: Salisbury Steak.

Imagine my dismay when the waiter brought me a thin hamburger patty topped by some gooey brown gravy.

In The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet’s Nest, Lisbeth Salander, the computer-hacking Swedish bohemian supergirl, is served Salisbury Steak while she is in the hospital.  That should be a dead giveaway to this concoction’s medicinal origins.

It was invented, if that is the word, by an upstate New York doctor named James H. Salisbury as a cure for diarrhea among Union soldiers in the American Civil War.  Salisbury, whose low-carb, high-protein ideas preceded the Atkins diet by a century, believed that a steady diet of coffee and lean chopped beefsteak was just what the doctor ordered for the intestinally challenged men in blue.  He believed vegetables produced poisonous substances that caused heart disease, tumors, mental illness, and tuberculosis.

Dr. Salisbury—alas, the steak’s name has nothing to do with the historic English town and its lofty cathedral—added onion, egg, mushrooms, and milk to minced beef and served it to the soldiers.   The dish became popular as “Hamburger” steak, but during World War I, when German names were anathema, it became known by its inventor’s friendly English name of Salisbury.

Next time I think I’ll order Chicken à la King.  That sounds pretty regal, doesn’t it?

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou swore off Salisbury Steak years ago, as his tastes are somewhat more exotic.
                      A Salisbury Steak
                      I take for a fake,
                      It might even be laced with pink slime.
                      As for SPAM,
                      It ain’t ham, it’s a sham
                      From a pig that was not in its prime.
                      And a Chicken McNugget?
                      I won’t hug it or plug it,
                      For the meat has been flaked and then formed,
                      And the stuff in a wiener
                      Could be cleaner and leaner,
                      And through it who knows what has swarmed?                                         
                      For a good wholesome treat
                      I just eat Potted Meat—
                      So what if it’s ground to a paste?
                      It uses all of the cow,
                      And obscure bits of sow,
                      And not one part is going to waste!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Leicester Jeicesters

Yanks who visit Great Britain are forever getting their tongues tangled around the non-phonetic, counterintuitive pronunciation the Brits give to many names of places and people.  It’s not so hard to remember Berkeley is “Barkley,” Leicester is “Lester,” and the River Thames is “Tems.” And we all can dredge up from our reading of Macbeth that the ill-fated Scot was the Thane of “Glomz” (spelled Glamis). 

But it gets dodgier when you encounter names like Barnoldswick (“BAR-lick’), Cockburn (“COE-burn”), and Colquhon (“kuh-HOON”). 

Even some Brits throw up their hands in confusion when confronted with Cholmondeley, which is pronounced “CHUM-lee,” Woolfardisworthy (“WULZ-er-ree”), Belvoir (“Beaver”), or the seemingly unsayable Featherstonehaugh, until you know it is “FAN-shaw.”

Most of these weird ways of saying words stem from the Norman conquerors' attempts to wrap their French-speaking tongues around Saxon names—and vice versa when the English were confronted with French imports. To this day, there are some diehard John Bulls who insist the Belgian town of Ypres is called “Wipers.”

Of course, Yanks themselves have some pretty odd pronunciations, including the family name Taliaferro, which comes out “TAHL-iv-ur”; Achilles (“uh-CHILL-us”), Kansas; Skaneateles, the New York town that sounds something like “skinny atlas”; Schuylkill (“SKOO-kle”), Pennsylvania; and the Purgatoire River in Colorado, which is rendered “Picket wire” by most natives.

Arkansans Americanize El Dorado to “EL-duh-RAY-duh,” and I have been told that there are some folks who call it “EL DOR-uh-DOO.”

Then, of course, there’s all the mangling Anglo speakers do to Spanish names in Texas: Mexia (“muh-HAY-ur”), Refugio (“ruh-FURY-oh”), and San Felipe (“SAN FILL-uh-pee”), among many.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has enough trouble pronouncing his own name, especially after the sun has been over the yardarm for a while, but that doesn’t stop him from grappling frivolously with the arcana of other people’s nomenclature:

            I met a young lady from Cholmondeley,
            And thought her exceedingly colmondeley.
            I gave her solmonde rolmonde,
            And she burbled, “Yolmonde! Yolmonde!”
            As I stood there, watching her dolmondeley.

            I met a young lady named Taliaferro,
            At a matinee showing of “Oliaferro!”
            Her looks made me quiaferro
            From my lips to my liaferro,
            In fact I was quiaferroing alliaferro!

            A theatre critic named Featherstonehaugh
            Saw Pygmalion and rushed out to peatherstonehaugh.
            He declared, “I’ve no quamis
            To say his plays are all bamis,”
            And he urged the producer to beatherstonehaugh.