I’ll Take a Gander—And a Silly Goose

Where does the phrase “to take a gander” come from? As one of the many delightful goose-related idioms in the English language (see “goose egg” and “silly goose”), the history of “to take a gander” involves male waterfowl and nosy neighbors.

As an idiom, “to take a gander” means to look at or investigate something. It can mean anything from a quick peek to a thorough examination.

A male goose is called a gander, while a female goose is a goose. Baby geese are called goslings. Geese have long necks, and a gander twists and stretches its neck to look around and keep an eye out for trouble. Geese are quite nosy and will poke their long necks around anywhere that seems interesting.

Jessica Nolting, republished by Know Your Meme.

In England in the 1880s, gander began to be used first as a verb meaning “to look around” and later as a noun meaning “a look.” The phrase “to take a gander” came into fashion in the early 1900s.

Interested in more goose sayings?

A goose egg is either a big bump that forms as a result of hitting one’s head on something, or a zero score in a sports game. Both resemble a large egg.

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Basically, this means that people or things that are alike should be given the same treatment. What one person is allowed to do, another person should be allowed to do in the same situation. So if you make a nice raspberry sauce for your roast goose dinner, it will also be delicious on top of gander since they’re the same animal.

And finally, a silly goose is someone who acts in childish or foolish in a comical way. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary described a goose as “a large waterfowl proverbially noted, I know not why, for foolishness.” According to one source, geese have long been perceived or characterized as foolish due to (1) their clumsy-looking waddle when they walk on land, and (2) the gander’s dramatic hissing and waggling at a perceived threat in competition for a mate, which may have led to (3) the use of a goose to represent a vain or foolish man in Egyptian hieroglyphics (though there is not a clear connection to English here), and (4) the portrayal of geese as unwise or gullible characters in fables and fairy tales.

Some have posited that the word silly first meant something like “feeble,” “weak,” or “innocent” as applied to animals. An early mention of a silly (alternatively spelled seely) goose was in a collection of poems called The Paradise of Dainty Devices published in 1576. The word goose alone has also been used from the early fifteenth century to mean “simpleton, silly or foolish person.” Spend a few minutes watching a gaggle of geese, and you’ll understand why they have been associated with so many negative characteristics—they panic easily, honk loudly, and bumble around in a somewhat ridiculous way.

And this is just the beginning of the goosery—stay tuned for a rousing game of duck, duck, goose next week.

Sources

“gander,” Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/gander.

“goose,” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/goose.

Samuel Johnson, “goose,” A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755, published by johnsonsdictionaryonline.com, https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/goose/.

“Take a gander,” Grammarist, https://grammarist.com/idiom/take-a-gander/.

“take a gander at,” Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/take-a-gander-at.

“Why Do We Say ‘Silly Goose’?” April 10, 2020. Reference.com. https://www.reference.com/world-view/say-silly-goose-95ae39b67c23049b.

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