goon

[ goon ]
/ gun /

noun

Informal. a hired hoodlum or thug.
Slang.
  1. a stupid, foolish, or awkward person.
  2. a rough, coarse person; roughneck.

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Origin of goon

First recorded in 1920–25; shortened from dialectal gooney, variant of obsolete gony “a simpleton” (of unknown origin); influenced by the comic-strip character Alice the Goon in the series Thimble Theatre by E. C. Segar (1894–1938), American cartoonist
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does goon mean?

Don’t be a goon! That is, don’t be a “fool” or an “oaf.”

Hired muscle, gangsters, and tough-guy hockey players are often called goons, too.

Where did the term goon come from?

The word goon may have originated in the 1580s as gony, meaning a “simpleton.”

E.C. Segar, creator of Popeye, introduced a whole island of goons to his comic strips in 1933. The goons (including, notably, Alice the Goon) were top-heavy, neanderthalish creatures, with tufts of fur and their own indecipherable language, sometimes allies and sometimes adversaries to Popeye.

Around the same time and likely due to Segar’s influence, goons came to refer to not just foolish or clumsy people but also physically imposing ones, especially hired muscle. In 1938, a book on American slang recorded goon as a “person of imposing physique and inferior moral and mental qualities” who acts as an enforcer for a labor union.

In 1939, an article in Collier’s magazine described members of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)’s and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a goon squad, mainly because they beat up workers who wouldn’t commit to an organized boycott. Eventually the term goon squad came to apply to any similar group of enforcers, from organized crime to the police.

The sense of goon as “enforcer” carried over into hockey in the 1970s. In 1976, Sporting News wrote of goon tactics and goon techniques. The goon’s job in hockey is to enforce the unwritten rules of the ice, with their fists if they have to.

In hip-hop, goon has become almost interchangeable with gangster. For example, in his 2008 song “A Milli,” Lil Wayne declares “I go by them goon rules: if you can’t beat ’em, then you pop ’em,” later somewhat perplexingly saying “Okay, you’re a goon, but what’s a goon to a goblin?” We’re not really sure, but if Lil Wayne is saying not to mess with goblins, we’ll take his word.

Who uses the term goon?

From 1951 to 1960, the BBC aired a radio comedy show called The Goon Show, known for its silly and sometimes outright weird sense of humor.

A comic book series The Goon starting in 1999 follows a mob enforcer who fights rival gangs of supernatural creatures.

Hockey goons have inspired a surprising amount of entertainment. A 2002 memoir titled Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey tells the story of a boxer who made his way onto a minor league hockey team as an enforcer. The book was turned into a movie in 2011. Singer-songwriter Warren Zevon even wrote a 2002 song about Buddy, a hockey goon, called “Hit Somebody.”

The hip-hop goon still exists, too. Starting in the late 2010s, video series titled Goons of the Industry explored criminals who had ties to rappers in the 1980–90s.

Of course, goon is still perfectly good as a mild insult too.

More examples of goon:

“In the ten-minutes scuffle, secretary Rajesh Tale held two goons in his arms to stop them from escaping. But the third goon hit Tale’s eye and ran away. Following this assault, the two others chanced on him by landing punches on Tale’s stomach. When his wife screamed for help, they, too, ran away.”
—Vishakha Virkhare, Pune Mirror, August 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for goon

British Dictionary definitions for goon (1 of 3)

goon1
/ (ɡuːn) /

noun

a stupid or deliberately foolish person
US informal a thug hired to commit acts of violence or intimidation, esp in an industrial dispute

Word Origin for goon

C20: partly from dialect gooney fool, partly after the character Alice the Goon, created by E. C. Segar (1894–1938), American cartoonist

British Dictionary definitions for goon (2 of 3)

goon2

noun

Australian informal cheap wine packaged in casks or boxed

British Dictionary definitions for goon (3 of 3)

go on

verb (intr, mainly adverb)

interjection

I don't believe what you're saying
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Idioms and Phrases with goon

go on

1

Happen, take place, as in What's going on here? [Early 1700s]

2

Continue, as in The show must go on. [Late 1500s]

3

Keep on doing; also, proceed, as in He went on talking, or She may go on to become a partner. [Second half of 1600s]

4

Act, behave, especially badly. For example, Don't go on like that; stop kicking the dog. [Second half of 1700s]

5

Also, go on and on; run on. Talk volubly, chatter, especially tiresomely. For example, How she does go on! The first usage dates from the mid-1800s; run on appeared in Nicholas Udall's Ralph Roister Doister (c. 1553): “Yet your tongue can run on.“

6

An interjection expressing disbelief, surprise, or the like, as in Go on, you must be joking! [Late 1800s]

7

Approach; see going on.

8

Use as a starting point or as evidence, as in The investigator doesn't have much to go on in this case. [Mid-1900s]

9

go on something. Begin something, as in go on line, meaning “start to use a computer,” or go on a binge, meaning “begin to overdo, especially drink or eat too much.”

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.