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May you have gobs of money, tons of fun, and scads of friends

Nov 2, 2014

Saying you have "a lot" of something is pretty boring.

But when you say you have "gobs" of fun, you're painting a more interesting word picture.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan did some snooping into the background of the word "gob," and found it's borrowed from old French. 

"It comes into English in the 14th century, referring to a mass or a lump," Curzan says. "You'll see that today as in a gob of spit or a gob of mud."

By the 16th century, gob in the plural was coming to refer to a lot of something, as in gobs of money or gobs of food.

"When I looked in the Oxford English Dictionary, I was struck that the entries for gob and gobs hadn't been revised yet, and the OED editors say this word is obsolete," Curzan says. "So I checked in Google Books, and found that in 1900, that word was falling out of use. But during the course of the 20th century, it has shot back up in use. For some reason, we decided to reinvent it."

Curzan says the use of gob or gobs began to rise in the 1960s, but it really took off in the 1980s.

How about "gobsmacked?" 

Curzan says there's no connection.

"Gobsmacked comes from gob, meaning mouth, which came into English in the 16th century. 

But "gobsmacked" came onto the scene much later.

"The OED cites it in 1980. They say it's U.K. slang. I hadn't realized it was so recent," Curzan says. 

Then there's "tons of," as in "we made tons of money."

"Here we've got the metaphorical extension of ton from being a unit of measurement or weight, and it starts to mean a lot of," Curzan says. "This happens starting at the end of the 19th century, and has gotten more popular. Google Books says the expression "tons of money" took off in the 1980s."

Let's not forget about "scads."

"A scad comes from a dollar, and it shows up in the mid 19th century," Curzan says. "We don't know where it came from. And then the plural starts to mean "lots of," although you can also use the singular as in a scad of microprocessors."