I was reading an LRB review by Thomas Jones of a couple of books about David Bowie when I hit the sentence “When the tour resumed in the autumn [of 1974], with many of the musicians from Philadelphia now on stage, Bowie ditched the elaborate set and changed his costume, performing in his girlfriend Ava Cherry’s father’s gouster suits from the 1940s.” Gouster suits? I had no idea of how to pronounce it, let alone what it meant, and half-suspected it might be a misprint. But Google quickly took me to this post at Darkjive.com (run by the eloquent Chicagoan Ayana Contreras, who is “passionate about sound and color… Darkjive is about… [w]hat may have once been deemed obsolete, out of fashion, or otherwise lacking. The jive”), where I found not only a good brief definition—”In the Sixties, on the South Side of Chicago, the male clothing signifier was whether you were a Gouster or an Ivy Leaguer…. Basically, Gousters dressed like old school gangsters [i.e., from the 1930s to the ’50s], and Ivy Leaguers dressed preppy”—but “a record from about 1964 called ‘The Gouster’ by a local group called the Five-Du Tones” that showed that the pronunciation is /’gawstər/ (you can listen to it here; it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it).

So that gave me the basics, but I went to Google Books to see what I might find, and along with some quotes along similar lines (“I was a Gouster; we didn’t have social clubs like that, but we went to the clubs on the street”; “Listening to Chicago radio in the mid-1960s one could frequently hear ‘fox,’ ‘gouster,’ ‘feznecky,’ and ‘fern’ … Disc jockies, particularly Herb Kent, would invariably ask upon taking a call if the caller were a ‘gouster’ or an ‘ivy-leaguer'”) I saw a snippet from Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: “GOUSTER, s. A violent or unmanageable person, a swaggering fellow.” I looked it up in the DSL and found “gouster II. n. 1. A wild, violent, blustering or swaggering person (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Ork. 1880 Ib.; Sh.10 rare, Ork., Kcb., Dmf. 1955); a stubborn, churlish person (w.Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. 27; Kcb. 1929).” So what are we to make of this? The words are formally identical and semantically very close indeed, but how might it have gotten from Scotland to the South Side of Chicago? Not impossible, certainly, but I’d like to see more steps of the journey before letting go of my usual presumption in favor of coincidence.


  1. Greg Lee says

    Here is someone from Chicago who was an Ivy talking about the difference between the Ivies and the Gowsers in his school:
    “There were two main groups of black teens at my high school in the early ’60s—Ivys and Gowsters. Gowsters wore high-crown Stetson and Dobbs hats, cuffed dress slacks with front pleats, long-lapel dress shirts with wide ties, double-breasted suits, and sharp-toed Stacy Adams shoes. Gowsters never got good grades in school.”
    And “gowster” appears in a dictionary of Shetland:
    v – to speak in a loud, overbearing manner. What he roared an gowstered an took on at da pör wife.
    n – a strong gale.

  2. pronounciation
    Well! Far be it from me to criticise …

  3. Perhaps unrelated, but gowster is a drug addict, in particular to gow ‘opium’, which the OED says is from Chinese yao-kao (藥膏? I thought that was just ‘ointment’).

  4. dearieme says

    “how might it have gotten from Scotland to the South Side of Chicago”: call me excessively daring, but how about its being carried by an immigrant?

  5. marie-lucie says

    carried by an immigrant?
    You need a group of speakers to make an impact on local vocabulary. One person saying a word no one else understands will stop using it.

  6. Ah, but what if that one person is particularly charismatic? Particularly persistent? More than willing to explain the word to all comers? And what if the word perfectly fills some local semantic niche?
    I’m not saying I think it happened that way.
    By the way, I am descended, in part, from Chicagoans who were descended from Scots, but I don’t have any inside information.

  7. pronounciation
    Thanks, fixed.
    carried by an immigrant?
    Of course there were Scots who moved to Chicago; how a fairly obscure dialectal term got into widespread African-American usage on the South Side in the ’60s requires further explanation.

  8. Basically, Gousters dressed like old school gangsters [i.e., from the 1930s to the ’50s], and Ivy Leaguers dressed preppy
    I presume I’m not the only one who was reminded of mods and rockers.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Ø : Ah, but what if that one person is particularly charismatic? Particularly persistent? More than willing to explain the word to all comers?
    I have thought of that, but in order to leave a linguistic trace, such a person would have also left a memory among the people he associated with (see for instance the persistence of sayings attributed to Yogi Berra). But the word is not found among (presumably) working-class whites, but among black teenagers of the 60’s imitating “gangster” clothing styles (though not gangster behaviour) of the 40’s.
    It is much more likely that the word as used by those teenagers, who dressed flashily but did not seem to otherwise get in trouble, had its origin in slang within the black community, unrelated to the Scottish word.

  10. Charles Perry says

    How could it have gotten from Scotland to Chicago? Hey, how did Welsh myglys become that old-time slang for marijuana, muggles?

  11. Trond Engen says

    According to the dictionary quotations it’s not even Scottish but confined to the Northern Isles, and it’s really hard to imagine a less likely origin of Black American slang.
    A local Orkney/Shetland word would likely be of Norse origin. Might I suggest that it’s the recorded Old Norse byname gastr, believed to be the same as Nynorsk gast “big man; troublemaker; spook”? I don’t know what local pronunciation that has been garbled into gouster by writers of English, but it seems that the ON case ending was retained while the root may have been replaced by the cognate ‘ghost’.

  12. dearieme says

    “confined to the Northern Isles”: except that Hat’s quotation also gives Kcb and Dmf, at the other end of the country.
    Anyway, how to reach Chicago blacks? Perhaps Scots immigrants used it in the South, the slaves picked it up, and their descendants carried it north?

  13. Dress-wise sounds very similar to the Zoot suit of the west coast? The better dressed beginnings of chic gangsta apparel (again aided and inbedwith the Madison Ave trend-makers), to not say appeal to the unwitting urban minority millions.
    I have thought of that, but in order to leave a linguistic trace, such a person would have also left a memory among the people he associated with
    Who’s to say what words or combination of sounds, especially exotic or circumstantial, will leave an echo? The speaker, on the other hand, is largely inconsequential.
    suffering from deja vu, Hozo

  14. Then there would almost certainly be more traces of it along the way, both geographically and temporally. No, I’m with marie-lucie: the two are probably unrelated.

  15. marie-lucie says

    dearieme, in that case one would expect the term to be more widespread across the US, not just in Chicago during a specific period.
    Trond, from the Scottish forms and meanings given, it looks like the first meaning was “gale” ‘strong wind”. One of the verbal meanings is “bluster”, a word (related to “blow”) also referring both to the weather, and to a human behaviour. I think that “gowster” (perhaps related to “gust”?) first referred to a strong wind (or the action of this wind), then to acting like a “windbag”, and later to a human who behaves that way. There could have been an influence from Norwegian, but the influence could conceivably have gone the other way, from the Northern Isles to Norway. Is there a similar a word in the Faroe Islands, for instance?

  16. Chicago – The Gousty City

  17. Trond Engen says

    Hat’s quotation also gives Kcb and Dmf, at the other end of the country.
    Some day I’ll try reading the quotation before making inferences.
    It does increase the chance that the word spread out of Scotland, but with no trace along the way it’s still a longshot.
    The ON etymology probably falls. A loan would have lost the case ending. But ON is still fairly likely for specifically Scottish words. Maybe it’s related to gusta “blow”?

  18. Trond Engen says

    That’s for leaving the comment for 20 minutes and not updating before sending. It seemed so silent here!

  19. marie-lucie says

    Trond: Maybe it’s related to gusta “blow”?
    The missing link! It all fits in.
    I suggested gouster was related to English gust. See what an online dictionary says for gust:

    Origin: 1580–90; from Old Norse gustr a gust, akin to gjōsa, gusa to gust

    So both Scottish gouster, gowster and English gust must be borrowings from ON, perhaps at different times or from different dialects. Norwegian gusta is a direct descendant of ON. The ON and English words refer only to wind behaviour, the Scottish one still has a weather meaning, extended to actions by human beings, and to the human actors.

  20. Bathrobe says

    Think laterally!
    Were there any sponsored educational programs in the early 20th century for sending Chicago blacks to Scotland to learn the language of Robbie Burns?

  21. There WERE significant communities of Norwegian immigrants in the upper Midwest in the 19th century. What’s the origin of Chicago’s “The Windy City”? Should we be calling it “The Gusty City” instead?

  22. Newsweek proposes gouster from Gaucho, because of the pants.

  23. marie-lucie says

    If so, could gouster be a blend of gaucho and gangster?

  24. Trond Engen says

    There WERE significant communities of Norwegian immigrants in the upper Midwest in the 19th century.
    For gusta to become goust rather than gust, it takes vowel-elongation and diphtongization in the receiving language, and besides, gusta is quite obscure in Modern Norwegian.

  25. Jeffry House says

    Maybe the word could derive from one person, who, while not particularly charismatic, was the host of the daily radio show playing the most popuñar music of the time?
    I still use phrases that originated with Wolfman Jack, after all.

  26. marie-lucie says

    Trond, I did not mean to suggest that Modern gusta was the source of the goust in the gouster of “gouster suits”. As I said before, I don’t think the Scottish word, let alone the Norwegian gustr, a word used about the weather, has anything to do with the a highly dubious recent influence of immigrants to the Midwest on black slang for a type of clothing (now itself obsolete).
    You say that gusta is ‘obscure’, which I interpret as either ‘obsolete’, or only found in remote dialects. Similarly gustr cannot be very common, as I had to look at two other online dictionaries before finding one which listed the word.
    Scottish gouster, considered to be an Old Norse borrowing, is attested in writing since around 1580. It was probably borrowed much earlier, since it shows diphthongization, which means that it previously had a long vowel, which participated in the Great Vowel Shift. Whether this long vowel was already in the ON form, or developed in Scots after the borrowing, is beyond my expertise, but the path of development should be traceable in works on the history of Norwegian and of Scots.

  27. marie-lucie says

    JH: Maybe the word could derive from one person, who, while not particularly charismatic, was the host of the daily radio show playing the most popuñar music of the time?
    That time is not so far back: the “gouster suits” were worn in the 60’s by teenagers, in imitation of styles of the 40’s and 50’s. These teenagers were born no earlier than about 1945, so the oldest ones are now the aging baby boomers! Surely if the word gouster had been regularly used on local radio, it would be still be remembered by large numbers of people in Chicago and elsewhere. Not only that, but tapes of at least some of the shows would still exist. Also, if the “gouster suits” were worn only by black teenagers, the radio station where the word was allegedly used would have been one catering to the black community, and therefore unlikely to employ a host of Scottish origin, who peppered his talk with Scottish words.
    I think the Scottish connection is less and less credible.

  28. Trond Engen says

    m-l: It was a response to hozo, but I’m too terse, I think. I meant to say that the only goust that could be a loan from Scandinavian is the Scottish one, because this would be old enough for the word to be common in the source language and for the soundchanges to take place in the target language.

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    marie-lucie, the quote in the original post said it was a word heard on the radio, especially out of the mouth of the legendary Chicago DJ Herb Kent. He grew up in the projects on the South Side but was one of very few black students (in the 1940’s) at Hyde Park High School. (http://www.idvl.org/thehistorymakers/Bio7.html is my source) Perhaps some pretentious or merely imported U of Chicago faculty child at that school peppered his speech with Scotticisms?

  30. Newsweek proposes gouster from Gaucho, because of the pants.
    Oh, journalists, when will you stop saying silly things about language?
    Perhaps some pretentious or merely imported U of Chicago faculty child at that school peppered his speech with Scotticisms?
    That’s certainly plausible, in that if I learned that it was true I’d say “Yeah, that makes sense,” but absent any evidence of it it’s just speculation. If only we could ask Herb Kent!

  31. Land-grant Ivy Leaguer says

    Fortuitous! Herb Kent actually comments on the question in an as-told-to memoir that was published in 2009 (forward by Richard M. Daley):
    “I believe the term ‘gouster’ originated somewhere in England, but I’m not sure.”
    It would be easy to ask him if he remembers anything else about the word; on any Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon one would simply place a call to the Chicago radio station where he continues to host a very popular radio show. At this very moment he’s playing “I’m still here” by the Notations.

  32. marie-lucie says

    Perhaps someone will read this and ask him, or someone close to him! Coincidence? someone (it has to be one person) just registered gouster.com, gouster.net and gouster.org.
    I found these while googling “Herb Kent”, a name I had seen many times, without learning much about the man. I thought he might have a Wikipedia page, but there is only one paragraph on him on WiPe, in Finnish! There is also a link to a two-hour taped interview with him, talking about his life, which I have not listened to although it might provide some relevant information.
    Anyway, a special thank you to JWB and JHouse. I should have reread the post before starting on my search! I can now believe that yes, the word is a Scottish import, although it is not clear how. But it looks like Herb Kent is, or was in earlier times, a word collector, enjoying rare, funny-sounding words, and perhaps a word coiner too. His audience could enjoy hearing these words without necessarily adopting them or even learning their original meaning.
    I would reconstruct the chain of events thus:
    – the original is Old Norse gustr ‘strong wind, gale’, related to a verb meaning ‘to blow’ (probably the origin of English gust, a borrowing ?); both words now obscure in Norwegian;
    – borrowed into early Scots English as [gu:str] (long u), later gouster/gowster after diphthongization through the English Vowel Shift. The noun, meaning ‘strong wind, gale’, is also used as a verb, later applied to a forceful but undesirable human behaviour, and later again used as a noun, this time meaning ‘swaggering fellow, etc’ (see original post)
    – learned by young Herb Kent of Chicago, in yet undetermined circumstances; becomes one of the characteristically outlandish words he uses on his popular ratio show;
    – in the 60’s, adopted as a group name by some black teenagers with a definite self-image and distinctive clothing, typified by the “gouster suit” reminiscent of gangster attire in the previous generation;
    – never in general use, but remembered by some as referring to mores in the heyday of the period; especially in association with jazz or perhaps just black culture, as in David Bowie’s 1974 release.

  33. Scottish gouster, considered to be an Old Norse borrowing, is attested in writing since around 1580. It was probably borrowed much earlier, since it shows diphthongization, which means that it previously had a long vowel, which participated in the Great Vowel Shift.
    ou was never diphthongized in Scots, and remains /u/ to this day. Vowel length also became non-phonemic very early, so Norse short /u/ would be heard as /u/, not /ʌ/.

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    There appears to be a scholarly article or book chapter from 1971 titled: “Gowster, ivy-leaguer, hustler, conservative, mackman & continental: A functional analysis of six ghetto roles.”

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    MMcM, backing up to the beginning of the thread, why does it seem improbable that “gowster” meaning a particular youth subculture in early ’60’s black Chicago would be unrelated to “gowster” meaning, say, hophead, to use a similarly archaic word? The latter seems well attested in mid 20th century American sources purporting to describe urban/demimondaine argot (and/or black youth culture from sort of a well-meaning social-worker POV) and indeed gowsters in the narcotic-consuming sense are associated in an old American Mercury piece with “a certain peculiarity of speech known to the linguist as ‘argot.'” Whether the dope-oriented “gowster” is really some sort of Chinese loanword rather than the same old Scots thing seems possible but (esp given the loose etymologies one often sees for slang) not definite.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Um, there was a misnegation in the prior comment. And on closer reading it seems that MMcM was suggesting a possible but not definite connection with the dope-associated sense of gowster, a possibility that seems underexplored in the thread thus far.

  37. marie-lucie says

    The plot keeps thickening! Things are getting more and more mysterious.
    JC:ou was never diphthongized in Scots, and remains /u/ to this day.
    Then where does the diphthong in gouster, gowster come from? England rather than Scotland (as Herb Kent said)? but there is apparently no trace of it outside of Scotland.
    Vowel length also became non-phonemic very early, so Norse short /u/ would be heard as /u/, not /ʌ/.
    But short /u/ became /ʌ/ in English, hence gust, I presume?
    JWB: the dope-associated sense of gowster, a possibility that seems underexplored in the thread thus far.
    As I was spending time trying to disprove the Scottish link (or at least, finding arguments against it), I did not consider the alternative I had first expressed, namely the black slang connection (as a hypothesis, since I am not qualified in that area). If it turns out that the English/Scottish connection does not hold water, then it is worth exploring this other alternative.
    But if gowster had always been definitely associated with dope, asking people on the radio if they were gowsters, or high school students to call themselves by that name, might not have been such a good idea. Herb Kent did not say anything about this meaning of the word (at least in the source mentioned)
    Perhaps gowster was originally an English word borrowed into Scots (in Scotland) and lost in English? Perhaps the word was already in use when “gow” (the drug) was introduced, and gowster was also used in the dope context, thereby pushing the word out of common usage? But theis would mean that the word was indeed used and had a meaning outside the dope context.

  38. Trond Engen says

    Thanks, JC, and sorry, marie-lucie, if I misled you. I had a nagging feeling that something didn’t fit, even from ON to Scots. Which is why I’d like to know how the word actually sounds, not just how it happened to have be written down.
    But if we now entertain the hypothesis of a single-event import to Chicago by a dictionary-reading discjockey, original pronunciation is probably irrelevant.
    Also: There are related words with long vowel. The purported Germanic verbal root is *géus- “flow”, which has given words like No. dial. gøysa “flow violently” and — ba-ba-dam — geysir.
    At least I presume they’re related. Gust looks like an abstract from the 0-grade, parallel to lust from *léus- “free”, i.e. something like “flow, fluidity”.

  39. marie-lucie says

    Trond: I’d like to know how the word actually sounds, not just how it happened to have be written down.
    The original post quotes /’gawstər/ (as pronounced in the song recording), for the American slang word spelled gouster or gowster. The main Scottish sources write gouster but do not indicate the pronunciation. If I understand JC, the Scottish gouster should be /’gustər/, is that right? But the Shetland dictionary (see first comment above) gives gowster, pronounced /’gawstər/ (as per the audio clip).

  40. Trond Engen says

    Perhaps I’m unnecessary confused, but the sources are inconsistent. While JJGSD says

    v – to speak in a loud, overbearing manner. What he roared an gowstered an took on at da pör wife.
    n – a strong gale.

    DSL says (examples left out)

    GOUSTER, v., n. Also gowster, guster, gooster. [Sc. ˈgʌustər, Sh. + ˈgust-, ˈgʌst-, ˈgost-]
    I. v.
    1 “To speak in a violent blustering manner” (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.), to boast (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Sh., Ork., Dmf. 1955). Vbl.n. gousterin’, a scolding, “dressing-down.” Also common in Eng. dial. in various forms. Cf. Gowst.
    2. “To storm with wind and rain” (Sh., Ork. 1880 Jam.; Sh.10 1955), to be boisterous (of weather) (Ork.5 1955).
    Hence †(1) goust(e)rous, adj., of weather, etc.: dark and stormy, tempestuous; frightful (Ayr. 1825 Jam., ‡Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; ‡Ayr.4 1928; Dmf. 1955); (2) goustery, adj., wet and windy (w.Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. 27; Sh., Gall., Dmf. 1955). Cf. Gowstie, adj., 3.
    2. A violent outburst of language (Sh., Ork., Dmf. 1955); “blustering way of speaking; fierce, threatening address” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), guster). Also a sigh (Ork.5 1955).
    3. A strong breeze (Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 119, gooster, Sh.10 1955); “not a mere gust, but continuing for some time” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).
    [Of doubtful origin, but prob. a variant of Eng. dial. gauster, goster, to behave in a noisy, blustering manner, Mid.Eng. galstre, to make a noise or outcry. The I.Sc. forms may be orig. a different word, a freq. formation from O.N. gusta, to blow in gusts, later confused with the Sc. forms and meanings.]

    First, I take that to mean that there’s a wider variety of pronunciations in Shetland than in the rest of Scotland, and I’d like to hear that.
    But what I finally noticed on the eleventh reading is the last paragraph. It seems that it’s also a rather common English dialect word of long standing that never made it into mainstream written language.

  41. marie-lucie says

    Wxcellent research, Trond! Complexer and complexer!
    Could it be that some of these English dialect words are still used in some rural parts of the US as well? They might be found in dialect atlases, for instance. They could have come up to Chicago with some migrants from the South, as someone suggested earlier, rather than with Scottish or other immigrants.

  42. Trond Engen says

    Wxcellent research, Trond!
    Not so much. I finally pulled myself together and read the entries in entirety. And then I copypasted them.
    And here’s some more, this time from Norsk Ordbok 2014, which I should have checked long ago:
    (It’s too much to translate, and I won’t try the blockquote thing since it screwed up the paragraphs in my last attempt.)
    gausta v. (a).
    1. tala fort og utydeleg, som når ein skundar seg med å fortelja noko (Hal, Va (B)), Å.
    2. tala høgt og truga eller skjella; skrika på (Nissedal, Eidsborg, Høydalsmo i Tel; òg “gòste” Kviteseid, Seljord). “Gouste ette oonggane”. R. Til gjosa. Tyd. 2. med innverknad frå hausta. T.
    gaustar m. = gaust (Hal, Tel), R. Jfr. skotsk gouster, ofseleg, skravlande, braskande mann, T.
    gausten a. tilhuga til å gausta (Va(B), Hal, Tel), R.
    gausting f. det å gausta (Va (B), Hal, Tel), R.
    gos I. (ò) f. kvende som gasar; kått, styve og useda kvende (Moland i Tel), R. Jfr. gasa I.
    gos II. (ò) n.
    l. utstrøyming, gøysing; luftstraum, Å; “gòv” (“gås(s)” Innh), R.
    2. det å gosa 2. (Tel), R.
    3. det å gosa 3. (Tel), R. Jfr. nisl. gos utbrot, serleg av vulkan; fær. gos, luftstraum, gøysing; shet. guster, òg um høgmælt tale, T; gn. goss som tilnamn.
    gosa (ò) v.
    l. eima, gova, t.d. av noko som kokar (Snm, Ød), Å; òg osa (“gåså” Gbr, Innh, Ød). “De gåså brænnevin ta`a”. R.
    2. tala fort eller liksom andpuste, skunda seg med å fortelja noko (jfr. gausta) (Tel), Å.
    3. det gosar, det blæs stridt og ber ovan i byor (Seljord, Rauland i Tel), R. Jfr. gjosa; sv. målf. gosa, eima, rjuka, blåsa, prata. T. Nisl. gosa, blåsa, draga, B.
    gose I. (ò) m. straum av luft eller eim (“gåså” Innh), R. Jfr. gosa l.
    gose II. (ò) f.
    l. luft-drag, vindgufs (jfr. vindgose) (“goosoo” og “gusu” Orkd, Uppdal, Strinda o.fl. i STr, Stjør), R, luftstraum, eim, t.d. frå eit sers varmt rom. Han hadde drukke so det stod gosa or honom (mest nordanfj., “gåså” Orkd). Å.
    2. kald straum nedetter ryggen, grysjing (STr), R.
    3. laus-tidend; slarv (Vo), R.
    4. ei som gosar 2. (“gosu” Lårdal, Rauland, Seljord i Tel, “gose” Moland), R. Jfr. gosa.
    goseleg a. (og adv.) som ei gose II.4. (“gosuleg” Lårdal, Rauland, Seljord i Tel); som busar fram; hæsande (jfr. gosa 2) (“gosaleg” Rauland i Tel) R.
    gus m. straum av luktande eim, os (Hal). “Dæ stoo slik äen guus or flæskun”. R. Jfr. gusa I.: sml. jysk. guse, kald disig hav-luft, T.
    gusa I. v. (a)
    1. blåsa veikt, gusta (“guusa” Seljord o.fl. i Tel), R.
    2. strøyma fram um lukt (“guusa” Hal), R. Jfr. nisl. gusa, spruta. Til gjesa. T.
    gusa II. (ù) v. (a) stynja eller sukka av uhug, kvida seg for noko ein vert nøydd til å gjera. “Han gusa å kvide mot di” (Snm). Å. Til gjosa. Sml. sv. målf. gusla sej, jamra seg utan grunn; sv. gysa, dsk. gyse. T.
    gust m. og f.
    1. = gufs I. 1. (-m. Tel, Set, Gbr, Va(B)), R, (-f. serleg vest og nord i landet), Å. “Uti gusten”, fåfengt (Set), R4.
    2. eim som stig upp or jordi, serleg um våren (-m. Shl), V.
    3. um fleire sjukdomar som kjem brått, serleg um utslett, R, soleis um alvgust, Å, (jfr. likgust, jordgust, vassgust), R(-m.). Gn. gustr m. i tyd. 1.-2. og som tilnamn. Til gjosa. T.
    gusta (ù) v. (a) blåsa veikt, blekka, gufsa, Å. Gn. gusta.
    guste I. m.
    1. einskild vind-gufs (Sfj), Å.
    2. ofse (?) (Landstad 137), Å. Jfr. nisl. gustur, òg um kald, feiande framferd.
    guste II. (ù) f.
    1. = gust 1. (jfr. tvirleguste) (Eksingedal i Nhl), R.
    2. luftdrag gjenom eit op (ei dør) (sumst. i Sfj), R.
    guste-gras n. gnaphalium (Sfj), Å.
    gust-eine m. gul eine som dei røykjer burt gust 3. med (NGbr), R.
    gusten I. a. ikkje heilt still (i lufti), Å. Jfr. gusta.
    gusten II. a. grå-bleik, fólen, HFo. Jfr. gust 3., B.
    gustut a. = gusten I. (“gustått” Tr), Å.
    “gusu” sjå gose II., R.
    gusul m. ein som fer med laust snakk, ordgytar (Stjør). Kann henda for gosul, av gosa. R.
    gøys m.
    1. straum som gøyser fram (Jr o.fl.), Å, (So, Har, Tel), R; serleg um luktande eim, os (jfr. brennevinsgøys) (Ma, Rbg, Hal, Tel o.fl.), R; skvett, sprett (Jr o.fl.), Å, (So, Har, Tel), R; serleg um sjøskvett (Shl), V.
    2. = gøyse I. 2., Å, (Gbr, So), R.
    3. gjetord (Hal, Roms, Ndm (n.?)). “De stoo slik(t) gøys ‘tå di”. R.
    4. høgste toppen av eit fjell ? (Seljord i Tel). “Høgaste gøys´’n på skorvee” (på fjelle)” (sernamn?). R.
    gøysa v. (t)
    1. spruta, vella, strøyma fram (Jr, Rbg o.fl.), Å, (Har), R (iformene: “gøysa”, “gøys´e”, “gaus”, “gose” el. “gøyst” Shl), R3, V; serleg um ein luftstraum med sterk lukt (Ma), R3.
    2. skuma, sjoda upp, renna yver bardane (SoFj), Å, (Snm), R, (Shl). “Da gjøys´e øve i gryyto”, V; ~ upp, òg fara for kvast, ølast, Sn.
    3. ofsa i talen, segja for mykje, gjera saki for stor (Vestl, Hal o.fl.), Å, (Tel, Ma), R; forhasta seg i talen (jfr. gjosa, gausta); slarva, gå med drøs (No o.fl.), Å, (Stjør), R; òg skjenna og bråka for småting (Nu), Å.
    4. øyda upp, sumla burt. “Han gøyser dæ bort i tørløysa” (- tarvløysa) (Follo, Austf). R. Gn. geysa, lata gøysa, driva, velta fram; jfr. fær. goysa, få til å spruta, rusa fram. Kausativ til gjosa. T.
    gøysar m. ein som gøyser, skrøyter, slarvar (sjå gøysa 3.), Å. Jfr. sv. målf. gjöser, menneske som ikkje er å lita på, T.
    gøyse I. f.
    1. gøysande straum, skvett, Å.
    2. ofsing, usætande soge, stort ord med liten grunn (Vestl), Å.
    3. gjetord, serleg um eit som er ofsa. Det stod slik ~ av kor ven ho var. Sn.
    gøyse II. a. (eig. gen.) um det som er sers stort, for stort eller ofseleg (Set, Tel). ~ kar, stor og sterk kar som held seg vel mykje framme; det var gøyse verk å slå der, eit hardt arbeid. R. Gn. geysi adv.
    gøyse-kar m. gøyse kar (Set), R.
    gøyseleg a. (um forteljing) storlåti, tilstasa, noko utruleg, Å.
    gøysen a. tilhuga til å gøysa; serleg ståkande og storordig (Ma o.fl.), R.
    gøyse-tev m. tev av mørebotn (Trums), R4.
    gøysing f. det å gøysa i ymse tyd., Å, B.
    gøyster m.
    1. blåster eller framfusing i åtferd og framføring (Vik o.fl. i So). “Han kom mæ slik´e g.”; “d’æ slik´e g. oor han”. R1.

  43. Trond Engen says

    And then some:
    gjos m. luftstraum, os; ill tev (òg i formi “gjøs” Hal), Å. Jfr. gjosa, B.
    gjosa v. (gys, gaus, gòse) strøyma, vella fram, um væte eller luft. Det gaus blodet or honom, blodet strøymde or han; det gys i røyri, røyri er utett; det strøymer luft gjenom ein skøyt eller sprekk; det gys målet i honom, um ein som talar ugreidt, t.d. av di han er tannlaus. Òg i formi “gysa”. Å. Gn. gjósa (gýs; gaus, gusum; gosinn).
    gjosar m. muge, mengd som strøymer fram (VTel), R1.
    gjosing f. det å gjosa; luftdrag, Å.
    gjosta (ó) v. (a) blåsa litt, gusta (Tinn? i Tel), Å, (“joste” NVTel, Sveinongsson), R1. Jfr. nisl. gjósta, blåsa kaldt. Til gjosa. T.
    gjoste ? f. = gjoster (i formi “gjøsta” Sfj), Å. Gn. gjósta.
    gjoster m. vindgufs, vind-drag; drag t.d. frå vindaugo i eit hus. Å. Jfr. nisl. gjóstur m., kald vind, kald luftstraum.

    This all goes to show that the whole ablauting strong paradigm and its i-umlauted causatives are all reflected in abundance.

  44. Ah, so it’s properly gowster rather than gouster. In that case, /ʌw/ would be right, corresponding to English /oʊ ~ əʊ/ when it’s spelled ow, as in flow, grow. Scots spelling isn’t that well standardized, and it’s not surprising that some would write gouster rather than gowsterthey know how to pronounce it, after all. The ow vowel descends from OE ow as in flow, grow, from OE og followed by a front vowel, and from Older Scots ol when postvocalic /l/ > /w/ in Middle Scots.
    As for Insular Scots (particularly Shaetlan) it is outside the diasystem which Scots spelling is intended to represent.

  45. Trond Engen says

    John: Would some ablaut of the Germanic root *gews- regularly yield Scots gows-? It seems to me that it takes borrowing from ON *gaustari vel.sim. to get there.

    It struck me that Eng. yeast looks like a regular reflex of *géus-t-, i.e. a cognate of gaust and/or gøyst “flowing”. But it’s not.

  46. A good example to keep in mind when evaluating “obvious” etymological relationships.

  47. Norway to Shetland to the Great Lakes, there’s a maritime tale in the telling. Somehow appropriate that such a word full of bluster should reach landfall in America’s swaggering City of the Big Shoulders. What current blew the word Mr. Kent’s way?

  48. Hi all. My name is Ayana Contreras, and I am from Chicago. I was also mentioned by the author of this post as having created a blogpost of my own about the term Gouster. As an armchair linguist/etymologist, this is absolutely smashing!
    The South Side Chicago variant of the term Gouster most certainly had a softly seedy connotation, but not necessarily that of a drug user. It was more of a class signifier, wrapped up in old time gangster dress and working class ideals (as opposed to their anti-thesis clean-cut cardigan wearing “Ivy Leaguers”). I am almost certain that Herb Kent was using this definition when he related to teen callers on his 1960s Radio Program.
    I am also almost certain that the term is related to some sort of antiquated word that was re-purposed for this case. The Scottish thing is interesting though, as there is not a particularly large Scottish immigrant history here in Chicago (Irish, German, Polish, Jewish, perhaps); BUT:
    Scottish immigrants were not at all uncommon in the Southern United States, especially the Deep South. Perhaps a Black American heard someone in the South use the term, then carried it in their satchel up North during the Great Migration with various other antiquated terms (like “washroom” for “bathroom”)…. Thoughts?

  49. That seems very possible; I wonder if Herb Kent would have any idea where he picked it up? It is a fascinating term!

  50. Herman Samuels says

    I’m 71 years old now, and I’m a gouster, notice I did say (I’m a gouster because I still dress very close to the same as I did in the sixties. ) we had the pleats, the Stacy Adams., or comforts,sometimes a secretary in your back pocket with a chain leading from a belt loop to the secretary. We also had a jacket called a pimp jacket
    we also wore a Dobbs or a mop (a hairstyle, process ) then the walk, that sealed the definition of a gouster

  51. Thanks very much for sharing that; it’s great to hear it from the gouster’s mouth!

  52. Wayne Arnold says

    After reading this I just had to comment! As the brother from Chicago said “We were Gousters” which had a direct link to how you dressed. Ivy leaguers were typically slimmer guys. A lot of football athletes were Gousters back in my high school days on the west side. Wider fitting slacks were comfortable and stylish Gouster pleats were my favorite.

  53. I lived in Hyde Park from 1961-63. At this time 63rd Street was a bustling commercial street with a lot of activity. Among the merchants and the customers on 63rd Street there were some older black men who still had their best suits from the late 40’s and early 50’s which they kept clean and sharp and they wore most times they were out in public. We would refer to them as “those old gousters”. I guess later this style became popular with some of the high school students. Gouster could also be derived from a slang word from the 20’s. I think it refers to opium smoker and/or dope fiend.

  54. Growing up in Chicago, we were influenced by black slang and the term Gousters which we interpreted as dressing unconventionally. As suburban white kids, this was an early form of grunge dress in my opinion. Anything to stand out or rebel was de riguer in the sixties.
    When I and Zander Schloss released this country, folk, Americana studio album in 2005, the CD was named The Gousters.
    It stayed on the folk charts for 60 weeks and gave me the validation to keep writing songs.

  55. Great story, thanks for sharing it!

  56. Milwaukee, 1979. “Hangin’ Around”, a song about a “Gauster” or “Gowster” named Jack, by the Milwaukee band “Yipes!”. Yipes! had two national album releases before disbanding. Frontman Pat McCurdy went on to become a Wisconsin music legend.


  57. As a David Bowie fan (one of his album project was named « the gouster ») I have always been curious about the meaning and the ethymology of words,
    I exhume this thread four years later, 😄. I found that the word « gouster » may originally come from old french word « gouster » which means « taste ». As about 50% of english words derivate from old french and normand, what do you think about this?
    I doubt it comes from Norway but I may be wrong



  58. A nice idea, but I’m afraid there’s no way an Old French word would have become part of African-American slang on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s.

  59. David L. Gold says

    The research literature has noted goster ~ gouster ~ gowster several times, for instance here:

    H. L. Mencken, The American Language, Supplement II, p. 680 (with references). See also the verb goster ‘domineer’ (p. 181).

    Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language: Unabridged, which derives the word from Middle English galstern (ss.vv gauster ~ goster).

    J. L. Lighter, Random House Dictionary of Historical Slang, vol. I, p. 945 (with references).

    The Dictionary of American Regional English, s.v. gauster, (with references).

    Those few sources suggest to me, tentatively, Black American English < the slang of the English-speaking American underworld < British English.

  60. The last paragraph above should read:

    Those few sources suggest to me, tentatively: at least the Black American English of Chicago < the slang of the English-speaking American underworld < British English. If so, how the word entered the Black American English of Chicago is no longer puzzling.

  61. Thank you for your reply.
    Obviously the articles you found previously seem more connected to Chicago black american slang. I put below another article with the origins of the word « Gouster ». Anyway it doesn’t work if « Gouster » is a derivative of « Gawster ». Maybe there is still a link, maybe not 🙂


    When the word disgust was first used in the English language toward the end of the sixteenth century, it referred specifically to a strong distaste for food, but it soon came to refer to aversions to things in general. The noun was borrowed from Middle French desgouster, which (through the exact same word in Old French) is composed of the roots des-, meaning “not”, and gouster, meaning “taste”. Des- is a Latin prefix that is reconstructed to a Proto-Indo-European element meaning “apart” and gouster is, by way of Latin gustare, from Proto-Indo-European geus, “to taste” or “choose” (this is also the source of the names Angus and Fergus, the verbs choose and gustate, and the nouns gusto and Valkyrie). Usage of the word disgust peaked in 1804 but has been experiencing something of a comeback since.

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