goon

Definition

Human Resources

  • noun a person who deliberately provokes disputes between employers and employees

Origin & History of “goon”

The antecedents of goon are murky. It may have been inspired by goony ‘simpleton’, which is first recorded in the 1890s and which may well be the same word as the much earlier gony with the same meaning, which in turn goes right back to the 16th century and could be related to Scottish gonyel ‘fool’. An ultimate connection with the obsolete verb gane ‘yawn’ has been suggested, but all we know for certain about goon itself is that it was introduced to the English language at large in America in 1921 by Frederick Lewis Allen, writing in Harper’s Magazine. He claimed that it had been in use in his family for some years, with the meaning ‘stolid person’, but he had no suggestions to offer as to its origins. It then disappears from the record until the 1930s, when its resurrection seems to have been set in train by ‘Alice the Goon’, a slow-witted, muscular character in the comic strip ‘Thimble Theater, featuring Popeye’ by E.C. Segar, which first came out in 1933 (it is not clear whether Segar knew about the earlier, 1920s usage). Taken up enthusiastically in student slang, by the end of the decade goon was firmly established in the senses ‘fool’ and ‘thug, strong-arm man’. during world War II it was applied by Allied prisoners of war to their German guards, and it has often been suggested that that was the inspiration for the goon of The Goon Show (originally Crazy People), the popular BBC radio comedy programme of the 1950s. Its creator, spike Milligan, denied this, and said that he got the idea from the ‘Goon’ of the Popeye cartoons. either way, it is the show’s particular brand of comical surreality that colours today’s meaning of the word.
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