or goons or goon squad [goon]
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 does goon come from?
Humanity has always had its fair share of goons, but 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 “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)’s 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.
Examples of goon
Who uses 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. I mean, just look at these goons.
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.
This is not meant to be a formal definition of goon like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of goon that will help our users expand their word mastery.