Thursday, June 21, 2012



I wanted to call this post, “What’s good for the goose is good for the barnacle.” The title was simply too long for the blog’s title format. Such is life.

Any birders out there will know that there is a bird species that goes by the name barnacle goose. What I find linguistically fascinating about the barnacle goose is that its name is redundant. The word barnacle first appeared in English in the early 1200s, meaning a species of wild goose. It wasn’t until the 1580s that barnacle applied to a type of shellfish. Though nobody’s certain, many etymologists believe this has to do with a combination of two things: 1) the barnacle goose was never seen raising its young by Europeans, as it indulged in this process in the European-free Arctic, thus causing those curious Europeans to come up with unlikely folktales, & 2) the barnacle of the shellfish variety catches its food with feathery, downy tendrils. So obviously, those funny-looking shellfish HAD to be the eggs of the barnacle goose!

While we’re considering our friend, the goose, here are some other goosely language thoughts:

1540s – goose begins to mean a simpleton or foolish person
1845 – the idiom, to cook one’s goose is born
1866 – goose egg comes to mean the number zero
1880s – goose picks up another idiomatic meaning, a jab in the derriere

The term gander appears to have originated with the Lithuanian word, gandras, or stork, which morphed to mean single men (much like “he’s going stag”). It was probably the similar initial sound (& possibly a dearth of storks) that led gander to mean male goose. By 1886 the idiom to take a gander was born, based off the gooselike craning of one’s neck while taking a gander.

So followers, please consider yourself goosed. What have you to say about all these gooseworthy thoughts?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, & the OED.


  1. Gooseworthy indeed. The barnacle connection is entirely new to me. And makes so much sense, in a the loopy, crazy way language works.

    Thanks for the enlightenment!

  2. If you're goosed more than once by the same person, I guess you've been geesed.

    ---SK (at

  3. Hi Steve & Anne,
    Thanks for coming by. Steve, do you imagine the folks of the 1200s didn't get goosed as much as they got barnacled?

  4. I have a dog I've considered renaming Goose on the basis of your 1880's idomatic meaning. Perhaps Barnacle would be a good name, too. Barney for short. Ah, words! What fun.