page was created because I received an e-mail one day in October 2002 from a
28-year old woman I did not know asking me the strangest question. She wanted to
know the meaning and origin of the word, "googamooga."
She was searching this out on the internet when she found it quoted on the
Jocko page of our website. She said, "I'm
trying to find out what in the heck the word, "googamooga," means! My boss is driving me nuts by singing the
Temptations 'Ball of Confusion' song. [the expression appears as an
exclamation in the lyric]"
So here is essentially what I told her:
you are right. Yours is probably the weirdest question I have
received in relation to my class website.
must tell you, I do not know the true origin of "googamooga"
(alternatively, "googa mooga" or "googa-mooga," sometimes
capitalized), and I can
only surmise its meaning from the context in which I have heard it used. I am not familiar with the Temptations’ 1970 record, "Ball of
guess I am too old for that.) I will tell you what I do know and what I
have learned as a result of your inquiry.
Although not confirmed by
any online source I could find, it seems that most
likely, "googamooga" is derived from black musician's jive talk or street
slang that pre-dates the 1950s. (You
might get a more authoritative response from a black history or language
professor at a university.) Like other white youths of the time, I first
heard the term around 1954 as used by the great, black, pioneer, rock 'n' roll
DJ, Douglas "Jocko" Henderson, as you read on my class website. The only other use
of the word I was familiar with before my 2002 research was the one probably
most familiar to most of you; it was in the lyric of the Cadets' 1956
recording of "Stranded in the Jungle,"1 as follows:
I had a strange
feeling I was with cookin' gear
I smelled something cookin', and a-a-a-h looked to see
That's when I found out they was
It appears that "googamooga" has no particular
meaning by itself but when combined with the word, "great" as in "great
googamooga" (or the significantly less well-known but possibly older
variation, "good googamooga"),2
it is an exclamation of either shock
and dismay or extreme appreciation, similar to
"Wow!" or "Goodness Gracious!" or, as Clark Kent's
boss at the
(or are you too young for that?) always said, "Great Caesar's ghost!"
According to David Fairweather, a jazz musician who wrote me in 2005, it is
as an invocation of a folk voodoo deity
"in the vein of black folk
"Great God!" or
"Oh, my God!"
In doing research in 2002 to address this question, I found an article
written by a
white, syndicated, blues DJ from Boulder, Colorado, known only as "The Red Rooster."
It suggests that our
Jocko may not have been as original as he claimed, as
he was given credit for, or as
we believed he was, but rather that he copied much of his style and
expressions from another black
radio pioneer, a contemporary
and mentor of Jocko's who
never seemed to achieve
widespread recognition, respect and notoriety outside
Baltimore and Philadelphia. His name was Maurice "Hot
"Hot Rod" Hulbert
Jr., also known as "The Rod."
Some quotes from
"Then there was 'great
mooga,' the '50s equivalent of
'awesome,' an expression that was first immortalized in song by the
Magic Tones in 1953 as 'Good Googa Mooga'."
HotRod [sic] was the first to say, 'It's good googa-mooga,' which means 'ain't
phrase turned up again in the Cadets' 'Stranded in the Jungle' in
1956 and later on the Temptations 1970 hit, 'Ball of Confusion'."
the same article, Hot Rod also influenced another one of our top New York
jocks, who copied Hot Rod's version of Pig
Latin called "ee-us" talk. "It
simply consisted of inserting 'ee-us' in almost every syllable, as in 'Get
the nee-us-od from the Ree-us-od.'
course, Rooster was
Murray "the K" ("Mee-us-urray
Rod, The Red Rooster's article also said:
[sic] and the Rocket Ship' show not only nabbed the black audience
[a radio station] was looking for, it turned young white listeners
on to a world of music known until then only by the tame
cover versions recorded by the likes of Pat Boone and Peggy Lee.
the early '60s, HotRod
was a sizzling commodity throughout the airwaves of the
Northeast, thanks to the fact that he was simultaneously doing shows on WHAT
in Philadelphia, WWRL in New York and on Baltimore's WWIN. New Yorkers,
however, missed out on the [Rod's] Rocket Ship show: Another DJ named
essentially stolen elements of the shtick and set up shop before the Rod got
mommios and daddios, keen teens, ladies and gentlemen. Commander HotRod
and grooving, wheeling and dealing, hop, skipping and jumping here, there,
each and everywhere bringing you the best in music, oyay, the best in songs,
the best in jive, the best in helpful information, dedicated to you, the
greatest people in the world, my listeners, as we move and groove, wheel and
deal, hop, skip, jump here there and everywhere, I gotta say this is without a
doubt the High Priest of Space, not the flower, not the root, but the seed...
As to who stole
what from whom (who first used "Great
"Mommy-Os and Daddy-Os" or the "Rocket Ship Show"
on radio, who really knows? We do know that Hot Rod Hulbert
was an early influence of
Jocko's, sometimes called "Jocko's idol,"
and, in fact, got him started in radio. But as for
me, who was a pre-teenager in 1954 New York, I have to say that
for all of us guys the time who were teenagers at the time and who
listened to New York radio late at night, the late
Jocko Henderson definitely owns
the term, "Great
Early in 2016, I
stumbled upon a comical, tongue-in-cheek, online blog entry (I
noticed it a little late; it was posted in
March 2012) by
Jim Bernhard, scholar and author of
Words Gone Wild:
Fun and Games for Language Lovers (among other things). Mr.
Bernhard makes extensive reference to this page in his
blog entry (http://wordsgoingwild.blogspot.com/2012/03/great-googamooga-indeed.html),
a more complete explanation of 'Googamooga'
," he says, "I am indebted to Howard
Levy and his website 1960sailors.net." Bernhard facetiously states at the outset, "As I’m sure
all educated people must be aware, “Googamooga” is one word, not two,"
and based primarily on his summary of the
foregoing information (which he found on this page), he
concludes at the end, "I’m
certainly glad to have that cleared up."
Bernhard's blog entry was
inspired by, and
annual, two-day music and food
Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., which I had never heard about
was called alternatively, "The
GoogaMooga Festival" or just "The Great GoogaMooga."
These discoveries led me to do some additional
internet research whereupon I learned for the first time that a New Orleans recoding
artist named Lee Dorsey of "Ya-Ya" and "Do-Re-Mi" fame had recorded a rather obsure
but catchy song in the same style called "Great Googa Mooga" ("Great
Googa Mooga, you're a-sweeter than a-sugar..."). It was first released as an album track
in 1961, and then it appeared on several others released after Dorsey's death in
1986. I also learned that the expression was spoken by an actor
named Orlando Jones once in a 2001 movie called Evolution.
I discovered a catchy but obscure recording made
the Del-Vikings in 1958 (released in 1959)
entertaining style of the Coasters. It is
called "Flat Tire." Although
the third line of these lyrics appears differently in all of the transcriptions I could find online,
the audio versions all contain the following lines:
"I grabbed my
I reached for
It was flat as a chair."
in 2020, a visitor to this site called my attention to a 1963
version of the Errol Garner jazz standard, "Misty," in which the
artist, the fabulous Lloyd Price, gleefully shouts out "great
Click to hear samplings of rare audio clips (called
"airchecks") of portions of
Jocko's "Rocket Ship Show"
(the "hottest show on the radio").
The original, far less successful (and in my
opinion, inferior) version by the Jayhawks
did not contain the expression, "great
Another variation, "great googly moogly,"
appeared in 1961 in "Goin' Down Slow" by
Howling Wolf and again in a 1974 Frank Zappa
song called "Nanook Rubs It."
refers us to a 1986 sculpture that is
pictured in a book entitled The Art of
Johnny Otis, copyright
by Johnny Otis. The sculpture entitled "The
Great Googa Mooga" (shown at right), depicts
a white-haired black man kneeling before an
idol of the voodoo deity. Otis, an
accomplished rhythm and blues
musician/songwriter/painter/sculptor is best
known by our rock 'n' roll generation for
his 1958 hit record, "Willie and the Hand
The Googa Mooga Festival was held
only for two years, 2012 and 2013, and its
future, if any, is uncertain, but it was
reported in 2013 as possibly moving to
Lincoln Park in Chicago. However, there has
been no word on that since. The promoters
put a Googa Mooga page on Facebook, but it
also has been inactive since 2013.
Copyright © 2002-2020 by Howard B. Levy and
Inc. All rights reserved.