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#80044 09/09/02 11:02 AM
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In the book I'm reading right now - my third novel by Rohinton Mistry in the last few months - there's an interesting intermingling of English and, presumably, Hindi, as the books all take place in India. The word they use for goon, in the sense of "an enforcer, a thug, sent to deter troublemakers", is goonda. I looked up goon in my dictionary and it more or less waffled, gave some excuse about some radio show (name escapes me at the moment), but didn't seem very certain. Is the similarity in the sound of the word, with the same definition, just coincidence, or did one come from the other? And if they are related, who stole the word from whom? Anyone with an OED or some working knowledge of India, please help me...it's been bugging me since I looked it up in the dictionary last night and got this silly excuse for an etymology.

And when did the word first come into use? This book is set in the mid-1970s.


#80045 09/09/02 11:57 AM
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Without looking it up - there is also a connotation of goon as embodying silliness, perhaps even innocence, as well as largeness, stupidity, obedience, awkwardness, and such thuggish attributes. Gooniness must precede your book by decades. I recall also an aircraft affectionately known as the "Goony Bird," putting it at least 60 years ago, and the term must have antedated that, too.

"Thug" is another word with a nice pedigree, by the way.


#80046 09/09/02 12:48 PM
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In cartoons in the thirties ;Otto Soglow had Popeye, Sea Hag, Alice the Goon. I think she was
a very dull sort of subhuman. The latter part got extended in slang to mean
a stupid underworld type.


#80047 09/09/02 01:08 PM
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Yes, goons can be a stupid, dull underworld type person, (and i think of the kids movie The Goonies, but goons can be low life thugs..
I. E., "He couldn't pay the loan shark the vig, and a couple of goons worked him over, to send him a message"
Goons, in this case would be similar to thugs or strong arm men... they might not be the brightest bulbs, they are better known for their muscles, rather than for being stupid.

(*vig= vigorish- perhaps from the russian or ukrainian, vygrash or vyigrysh, which means winnings or profits.. used in US since 1912 to mean interest charged by loan shark)


#80048 09/09/02 01:44 PM
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vig = vigorish- ... winnings or profits.. used in US since 1912 to mean interest charged by loan shark)

...and generally usurious interest at that, I should think


#80049 09/09/02 02:56 PM
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After a quick think and a quick glance at M-W, it looks like the "stupid" meaning of goon predates the thug meaning. Simple connection between the two: It's important the thug has very few thoughts of his own, follows orders and gets on with the job exactly as specified. This is also, of course, his (theoretical) weakness.

for etymology, M-W suggests:
probably short for English dialect gooney (simpleton)

- which is suspiciously close to the suggested etymology for goof (at least in meaning):
probably alteration of English dialect goff (simpleton)

So you could say Goofy is a bit of a goon.



#80050 09/09/02 03:04 PM
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So the word goonda as used by Indians to mean thug just happens to sound the same? Or is it borrowed from the English word goon. (And how on earth can I find this out????)


#80051 09/09/02 03:30 PM
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So the word goonda as used by Indians to mean thug just happens to sound the same?
I think so, Bean.

Just found this at:
http://www.indian-express.com/ie/daily/20010211/ied10028.html
``Shalom, mantriji,'' Zubin shouted and dragged me by the arm. ``Here, here, meet the greatest goonda of Israel, none other than Arik Sharon,'' he said,

If goonda meant the same as the English goon (with its strong implication of stupidity), I don't think the term would be used here. It appears to mean more "chief gangster" than "thug".


#80052 09/09/02 03:37 PM
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So, without getting political or anything, would Arik be Hindustani for Ariel?


#80053 09/09/02 05:14 PM
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It appears to mean more "chief gangster" than "thug".

I was specifically asking about the thug-meaning of goon in my original query, maybe that wasn't clear. Dictionaries give two separate senses for goon, the "idiot" sense, and the "thug" sense.

Anyway, in this book, it really means thug; it's used repeatedly in that sense in the speech of people in the book I'm reading (which is, of course, at home right now).

For example, the rent-collector (representing the landlord) comes around with two goondas to trash the apartment of the main character, after accusing her of running an illegal factory (two fellows on sewing machines) out of her apartment. The goondas punch the two tailors, bash the sewing machines, destroy the furniture, break the windows, and threaten to come back in 48 hours if she doesn't vacate the facilities. Definitely the "thug" meaning there.

I did find something on Word Detective:

The use of "goon" to mean "hired thug" probably derived from this "idiot" sense, but another theory (proposed by Hugh Rawson in his excellent book "Wicked Words") traces it to the Hindi word "gunda," meaning "hired tough," apparently often spelled "goondah" in British newspapers of the 1920s.


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