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Jibber jabber

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 22, 2009 at 04:31

In Reply to: Jibber jabber posted by Victoria S Dennis on November 21, 2009 at 16:32:

: : : Where did the phrase "jibber jabber" come from? I need the year it first appeared. Also, where did the phrase "I haven't the foggiest idea" come from?

: : As for the second part, something that is 'foggy' is unclear, hard to discern - for fairly obvious reasons - so a foggy idea (if such a phrase existed) would be a vague one.

: : Not having even the 'foggiest' idea is having no idea at all; not even a badly formed, undefined one.

: : DFG

: Jibber-jabber is a coupling of "jibber" and "jabber", which are themselves variants of the same onomatopoeic verb meaning "To speak rapidly and inarticulately; to chatter, talk nonsense". "Jibber" (spelt "gibber") was used by Shakespeare; "jabber" is recorded in 1499. (There are a number of similar words in English all meanig much the same thing - e.g. gabble, yabber, gab, jabble.) The earliest sighting of "jibber-jabber" recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1922, but that doesn't mean that was "the year it first appeared". Given English-speakers' love of reduplicated words (e.g. helter-skelter, hanky-panky, roly-poly, willy-nilly, hocus-pocus), coupling "jibber" and "jabber" would have been a natural formation at any time in the last 400 years, and it may have been commonplace for many years before it finally appeared in print. (VSD)

David is, of course, right about "foggiest." Dickens is the first author quoted by the OED for the expression "foggy idea": "A dull and foggy sort of idea," in Barnaby Rudge. Curiously, the word "foggiest" seems to be used by Brits most often without any expressed referent, starting (in print) in 1917, with "I haven't the foggiest." Or, as the OED puts it, the word is "Used negatively in superl., with ellipsis of idea, notion."

Only one citation of "foggiest" in the OED deviates from the model, the model being, "I haven't the foggiest," with the referent omitted. An American writer, in 1967, actually stated an antecedent "idea." That, and to some degree my experience, suggest to me that Americans like to state what it is of which they haven't the foggiest. And as the OED claims, it is most often either idea or notion.