Gedunk.

The servicemen in my family have been army and air force, not navy, so I had been unaware of the charming term “gedunk,” which (per HDAS) means both “ice cream or an ice-cream soda; candy or sweets; (broadly) a snack” (first attested 1927) and “a place where gedunk is sold; (hence) a restaurant, esp. on shipboard” (from 1956). I learned about it from this Wordorigins.org thread, where Richard Hershberger says the following about the origin of the word:

It comes from the comic strip “Harold Teen” that ran from 1919 to 1959. Harold spent much of his time at the Sugar Bowl soda shop eating “Gedunk sundaes.” This transferred to ice cream or other sweet snacks, and from there to where you obtained them.

The dictionary leaves open what was the source of “gedunk” in the comic strip. I think it is mock German for “dunk.” The cartoonist was Carl Frank Ludwig Ed and he went to a Lutheran college in Illinois, so I suspect he grew up with German. And then there is a letter to the editor from a reader “Gretchen” (published in the Belleville News Democrat of January 27, 1925, copied from the Chicago Tribune) complaining about the bad grammar of this vogue word and giving the proper forms. I particularly like the headline given the letter: “To Eingetunkt Is One Thing; To Gedunk Is Another.”

Faldage says “When I was in the Navy in the late ‘60s we pronounced it with the emphasis on the first syllable, /’gi: dʌŋk/,” and donkeyhotay concurs:

Same when I was in the Navy in the ‘80s. At Cecil Field, Florida (my squadron’s home port), I had to do my 90-days TAD with base supply. This took me to all the other squadrons delivering and picking up parts, and of course each squadron had their own geedunk. A couple of them were quite well-run. My favorites were the Marines’ at MAG-42 and VS-32 which called theirs “The Hungry Eye”.

So I thought I’d toss it out here and see if any Hatters have anything to say about it.

Comments

  1. Thomas Kitson says:

    My dad used to take us out for “gedunk” in Detroit. I never asked where the term came from, but surmised his boyhood friends used it in his largely German neighborhood on the East Side. He served in the Navy in the Pacific during WWII and Korea.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    eingetunkt = dipped into (sauce or whatever)

  3. Nein, ich habe keine Gedanken.

  4. Stu Clayton says:

    (ein)tunken is a fair equivalent to “dunk” in the “submerge” meaning. It implies that whatever is being dunked will sop up a goodly amount of liquid. The whatever is usually food.

    If you merely want to wet something’s whistle, eintauchen (transitive) is your word – for dipping a paintbrush in paint, for example. Or (Duden’s example) sie tauchte den Zwieback in den Tee ein. You would not (ein)tunken a paintbrush, in the usual course of things.

  5. My dad used to take us out for “gedunk” in Detroit. I never asked where the term came from, but surmised his boyhood friends used it in his largely German neighborhood on the East Side. He served in the Navy in the Pacific during WWII and Korea.

    Did he stress the first or second syllable? If the former, he definitely got it from the Navy rather than his boyhood friends, since German would not stress the ge-.

  6. This reminds me of of the use of dip to denote a scoop of ice cream (as is “double-dip cone”). It’s found in Ohio and Pennsylvania, at least. I associate it with Cincinnati, which has a strong German heritage (although I don’t really trust my impression there, since I’ve spent so much more time around Cincinnati that anywhere else in Ohio).

  7. Rodger C says:

    I’ve told this story before somewhere, but I was always bemused by the use of dip at the Bloomington, IN, Baskin-Robbins in the 1970s. Scoop seemed to be unknown. At the time, being from WV, I thought this must be a North-South difference, but when I mentioned it before on a language blog, I found that dip is much more restricted than that. I wonder now if it was simply a matter of where the BR’s local manager was from. (Bloomington isn’t very far from Cincinnati.)

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    “In order to win the prize on Grown-Up Day at school, a little boy looks all over town for the grown-up with the most interesting job, and succeeds in finding a man whose unusual occupation is dunking.” — plot summary of The Dunkard, by George Selden, probably best-known as the author of The Cricket In Times Square. (Both “Dunker” and “Dunkard” have also been in some currency historically as descriptors of certain religious groups of direct or indirect Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, meaning more or less what “Baptist” means as a descriptor among Anglophone Protestants.)

  9. I don’t know recall dip getting used much to mean a scoop when I lived in Bloomington from 2003 to 2007.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    the use of dip to denote a scoop of ice cream (as is “double-dip cone”). It’s found in Ohio and Pennsylvania, at least. I associate it with Cincinnati, which has a strong German heritage

    The only German term I know, however, isn’t deverbal at all. It refers just to the ideal shape: Kugel “ball/sphere”.

  11. The Yiddish/German food I think of in connection with kugel is, of course, a sweet casserole, usually with noodles. The usual etymology is that the word was originally (and more logically) applied to drop dumplings, which were a common way of adding starch to central European stews. But somehow, the name was transferred to a different, baked form of starch.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I think that’s exclusively Yiddish.

  13. For some reason, this reminds me of my father making “SOS” “shit on shingles” whenever my mother went out of town.

  14. Interesting, I’ve only heard “shit on a shingle” as far as I recall.

  15. @David Marjanović: It’s certainly more common in Jewish cooking. However, I have seen noodle kugel on the menu at at least two non-Jewish German restaurants.

    @languagehat: I first learned the bowdlerized “swill on a shingle,” which does not sound as good.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    This made me wonder about Kugel as a surname, but the internet suggests “nickname for a rotund person” as a plausible origin story.

  17. Thomas Kitson says:

    My dad stressed the first syllable. It’s clear, after reading your post, that he got it from the Navy. Still, I don’t know whether corrupted German circulating in the neighborhood would necessarily preserve the proper stresses. He also used the occasional Polish-derived word or phrase. I can’t remember them well, but I don’t think they were always “correct.”

  18. Considering that neither the pronunciation nor the meaning of gedunk are German, it’s time to look elsewhere for the origin.

    Just a thought: since it’s a Navy word, and the Navy was heavily involved in the Philippines in the early 20th century, and there were many Filipinos in the Navy, it might come from some Filipino language.

  19. Considering that neither the pronunciation nor the meaning of gedunk are German, it’s time to look elsewhere for the origin.

    Yeah, that bothers me too; I wish some professional etymologist would dig into it.

  20. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I’ve heard gedunk (as GEE-dunk) growing up for the hamburger grill / diner on base from my navy father. Also had SOS for dinner.

  21. Richard Hershberger says:

    @languagehat: The derivation from the Harold Teen comic is per HDAS, so professional etymologists have already looked into it. I see no reason to question this derivation. FWIW, it is easy enough to pull up the comic with a historical newspaper archive subscription. The question then is where did the comic writer get it. The suggestion that it is mock German comes from me. I am most certainly not a professional etymologist, or even entomologist, so at that point, fair enough. But I don’t see how the pronunciation or meaning not being real German enters in here. The pronunciation in particular is several steps removed from German, or even mock German. The comic doesn’t designate any particular pronunciation, which then went through any number of non-Teutonic Marines and sailors going from the spelling alone.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    Wikipedia says that the comic strip resulted in both a movie adaptation (well, two movies, but the first was silent) and a radio serial. It would be interesting to know if “gedunk” is said aloud in either of those contexts and if so whether it matches the military pronunciation or something more fake-Teutonic-sounding.

  23. Richard Hershberger says:

    Here is an audio promo for the movie and songs therefrom. “Gedunk” is mentioned at about 1:00. The second syllable is heavily emphasized, as is consistent with my mock German hypothesis and quite different from the pronunciation adopted by the Navy and Marines. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7djE9D1KXI

  24. Excellent find!

  25. entomologist
    Richard, are you by any chance a frequenter of the zompist board?

  26. Jim Doyle says:

    “Just a thought: since it’s a Navy word, and the Navy was heavily involved in the Philippines in the early 20th century, and there were many Filipinos in the Navy, it might come from some Filipino language.”

    I agree with Gary. It’s a Navy expression and it’s not clear how US sailors would have had much contact with German in the 1920s. It’s not something German-Americans would have heard at home and the introduced because German-Americans in those days didn’t go into the military much in those days at any rank, and least of all the Navy. And anyway the vocalization and stress are wrong for a German origin.

    I had the same thought as Gary so I just now asked a co-worker who speaks Tagalog if there was some similar term in Tagalog. There appears not to be one. The closest word that corresponded to “snack” was “pulutan” and that’s for snacks you eat while drinking; not very close either semantically or phonetically.

    One option – it’s from a Philippine language other than Tagalog. That’s a stretch because US sailors were in Manila and bases around there and would have been in contact with Tagalog but not so much with any other language.

    Another option – there’s been a semantic shift, and these can be big shifts. And example of this is the nearly equivalent Army term “pogi” (I’ve never seen this term written and it doesn’t have an English spelling; it’s from Korean.) The Korean word means “insect” and the original form of the Army term was “pogi bait” (because that stuff attracts insects if it’s left uneaten) So now the term refers to food, not insects, all in one semantic leap.

  27. It’s a Navy expression and it’s not clear how US sailors would have had much contact with German in the 1920s.

    But they read the comics. The presumption in favor of the “Harold Teen” origin is so strong that you’d have to come up with a really compelling alternative, and handwaving in the direction of the Philippines won’t cut it. This isn’t a mysterious word seeking an explanation, it’s a word with a perfectly good explanation backed up by continuous historical documentation — all that happened was the shift in stress, which is something English does frequently.

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    Yes, excellent find by Richard Hershberger. And I would have expected an understood-to-be-German-origin word in this sort of context to have been sufficiently Americanized to have the STRUT vowel rather than GOOSE vowel (our best approximation of an undomesticated echt-German pronunciation of the word), just as the movie trailer does.

  29. Richard Hershberger says:

    @Jim Doyle: No one is suggesting that it is a German word. Quite the contrary, the argument is that it is a word invented for and used in a popular and long-running newspaper comic strip, and that the military usage was borrowed from this comic strip. That is the part of the derivation that the HDAS gives. The second part, that I am proffering, is the explanation for the comic strip writer’s usage. He was himself German American. This provides whatever German connection we might feel is necessary.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    GOOSE vowel (our best approximation of an undomesticated echt-German pronunciation of the word)

    FOOT would be closer, but phonotactically even odder.

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    OK, maybe I shouldn’t have said echt-German. I feel like the way we were taught to pronounce “u” in perhaps-not-the-highest-quality U.S. public school 9th grade German class was closer to our GOOSE vowel (at least if you take away the fronting characteristic of the relevant regional accent) than our FOOT vowel, but I appreciate that something intermediate between the two would sound more Properly Foreign.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Each German vowel letter represents two phonemes, a long one and a short one. (With overlaps, e.g. short e and short ä are the same in every Standard accent.) Long u is [uː] and thus sounds like a very conservative GOOSE, short u – as expected here before two consonants, and as indeed found in (ein)tunken – varies little around [ʊ] and thus has a large overlap with FOOT.

  33. nearly equivalent Army term “pogi” (I’ve never seen this term written and it doesn’t have an English spelling; it’s from Korean.)

    Conventionally written pogey(-bait), at least in the Marine Corps, where the term seems to have originated (it goes back to WWI). See WP s.v. Pogue.

  34. Lars (the original one) says:

    @Richard Herschberger, I’m confused now — your own wordorigins post cites the heading of Gretchen’s letter to the editor that derives gedunk from (ein)getunkt, so it would indeed be a German word (for sufficiently wide interpretations of “be”).

  35. So cheese is a Latin word because it’s from Latin cāseus? Your interpretations are way too wide.

  36. Lars (the original one) says:

    The comment I’m reacting to:

    No one is suggesting that it is a German word. Quite the contrary, the argument is that it is a word invented for […]

    — I can only read that as a statement that it has nothing to do with German. Maybe I’m overestimating the stretchiness of “be” but my point stands that Richard’s original post cited a very clear suggestion that it was a direct loan from German, albeit reshaped.

    (Also cheese came into English a very long time ago, so your analogy only demands that I call West Germanic *kasjus a Latin word. That’s fair).

  37. Richard Hershberger says:

    @Lars: If I suggested a direct loan, it was a writing failure on my part.

    Here is what I wrote on Wordorigins: “I think it is mock German for “dunk.” The cartoonist was Carl Frank Ludwig Ed and he went to a Lutheran college in Illinois, so I suspect he grew up with German. And then there is a letter to the editor from a reader “Gretchen” (published in the Belleville News Democrat of January 27, 1925, copied from the Chicago Tribune) complaining about the bad grammar of this vogue word and giving the proper forms. I particularly like the headline given the letter: ‘To Eingetunkt Is One Thing; To Gedunk Is Another.”‘

    First off, this headline presumably was written by an editor, not by Gretchen. It might have been a Chicago Tribune editor, or it might have been added by the Belleville News Democrat. Either way, it is one or more steps removed from any source.

    But more to the point, I don’t read this headline as claiming a derivation. It implies a relation between “gedunk” and “eingetunkt” but makes no claim about what that relation is. My hypothesis is that the relationship is of “gedunk” being a humorous fake German word, which while likely a fake-Germanized version of the English word “dunk,” was identifiably close to the actual German cognate. The point of the letter was to argue for using the actual German word, correctly inflected.

  38. Jim Doyle says:

    “But they read the comics. The presumption in favor of the “Harold Teen” origin is so strong that you’d have to come up with a really compelling alternative, and handwaving in the direction of the Philippines won’t cut it”

    And so did soldiers read the comics, but somehow they never adopted the term. So there has to be more going on.

    The documentation in the comics is solid. What isn’t solid is the origin of the actual word. It maybe faux-German, but is there any other faux-German in AME that follows this pattern? I can’t think of any.

    And the connection to the Philippines is hardly handwaving.

  39. And so did soldiers read the comics, but somehow they never adopted the term. So there has to be more going on.

    Huh? All that’s going on is that it caught on among one group rather than others. That doesn’t require explanation — it’s basic human existence. (Does your family have any special “family words” or expressions? If so, why don’t all families use them?)

    It maybe faux-German, but is there any other faux-German in AME that follows this pattern? I can’t think of any.

    Again, I don’t follow you. What “pattern”? It’s fake German, made up by one person for whatever reason was in his head at the time. If I make up a fake Arabic word “jabooba,” does it have a pattern? Should other fake Arabic words follow it?

    And the connection to the Philippines is hardly handwaving.

    Sure it is, unless you’ve got something better than “the Navy was heavily involved in the Philippines in the early 20th century, and there were many Filipinos in the Navy.”

  40. I had a colleague who was in the Navy in the 1990s; he was stationed, among other places, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He taught me “gee-dunk” (pronounced as a spondee) as a word for a break room, a place with a coffee machine, a table or two, and a couple of vending machines. Not at all the ice cream parlor of swankier years. His etymology, or perhaps the etymology that was handed down to him, was that “gee-dunk” was the sound of working the vending machine: the sound of pulling and releasing the knob, and the ka-chunk sound of the sweet and salty treat falling to the bottom tray.

  41. Heh. Folk etymology is a wondrous thing!

  42. January First-of-May says:

    The only German term I know, however, isn’t deverbal at all. It refers just to the ideal shape: Kugel “ball/sphere”.

    Same in Russian: шарик (except with a diminutive suffix).

    (Also, weirdly, a common/stereotypical dog name, e.g. in Prostokvashino. Not that I have any idea why – dogs, unlike ice cream scoops, aren’t particularly spherical.)

  43. i am going to ask my father in law (who was in the Coast Guard throughout the 1960s) whether he knows this word. It would be interesting to learn the answer, at least in part because the smaller size of the Coast Guard and its bases means that there was never a diner/soda shop on base in the locations where he served.

  44. Lars (the original one) says:

    @Richard, i get your point now.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    dogs, unlike ice cream scoops, aren’t particularly spherical.

    “Furball”.

    Incidentally, that might be where dog comes from, though right now I don’t have time to dig for the link.

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