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gawking and gawping

December 24, 2013

 A little-remarked difference between British and American English is that we say gawp and they say gawk, both words meaning to stare at something in a slack-jawed way. Obviously these words are variants of the same root. I have a feeling that gawp may be the original form, because it is more similar to gape (actually these words form part of one of of those alliterative groups I’ve written about before – gape, gawp, gaze). The word gawk is used much more in American English than gawp is used in British English, however. It’s not an uncommon word in the US, and there’s a well-known satirical New York blog called The Gawker. It’s fairly obvious, I think, that gawk will replace gawp in Britain in the long run.

In British English, in fact, the word gawk has a completely different meaning: it refers to a gawky person – gawky being a delicious portmanteau word which is a cross between gangling and awkward , mainly used to describe teenagers, though it is not heard so much now.

I think that’s about all I have to say about gawk and gawp. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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  1. In Daniel Deronda, which I’m ploughing through, Gwendolyn’s mean husband calls her a gawky. Somehow I read this piece just before I read that in the book. Exactly the same meaning.

  2. It’s “little-remarked”. With a hyphen. Mr. English Language.

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