What is "Googamooga"?

A Lesson in Its Meaning and Origin

This 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."

So here is an updated version of essentially what I told her:

Yes, you are right. Yours is probably the weirdest question I have received in relation to my class website.

I must tell you, I do not know the true origin of "googamooga" (alternatively, "googa mooga" or "googa-mooga"), and I can only surmise its meaning from the context in which I have heard it used. I am not familiar with the Temptationsí 1970 record, "Ball of Confusion." (I 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.

Most likely, "googamooga" is derived from black musician's jive talk or street slang. (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 today 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 ah-cookin' me

                                                           

 

I believe 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 Daily Planet (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 sometimes interpreted as an invocation of a folk voodoo deity3 "in the vein of black folk superstition/spirituality," similar to "Great God!" or "Oh, my God!"

In doing research to address this question, I found an article online 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 Jocko's widespread recognition, respect and notoriety outside Baltimore and Philadelphia. His name was Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert, Jr., or "The Rod."  Quotes from the Red Rooster's article (http://www.bluesaccess.com/No_29/rooster.html) follow:

"Hot Rod" Hulbert

"Then there was 'great googa 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 she nice.' "

"The phrase turned up again in the Cadets' 'Stranded in the Jungle' in 1956 and later on the Temptations 1970 hit, 'Ball of Confusion'."

According to 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.' "  The author was talking, of course, about Murray "the K" ("Mee-us-urray Kee-us-aufman").

About Hot Rod, The Red Rooster's article also said:

"His 'Commander HotRod and the Rocket Ship' show not only nabbed the black audience WITH was looking for, it turned young white listeners -- yours truly included -- 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.

'Hello mommios and daddios, keen teens, ladies and gentlemen. Commander HotRod moving 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, sometimes called the herb, sometimes called the burner. VOSA!'

"By 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 Jocko had essentially stolen elements of the shtick and set up shop before the Rod got there."

As to who stole from who (who first used "Great Googamooga," "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 New Yorkers, the late Jocko Henderson owns "Great Googamooga."

   

Click to hear samplings of rare audio clips (called "airchecks") of portions of Jocko's "Rocket Ship Show" (the "hottest show on the radio").

_____________

1

The original, far less successful (and in my opinion, inferior) version by the Jayhawks did not contain the expression, "great googamooga."

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."

3 

David refers us to a 1986 sculpture that is pictured in a book entitled The Art of Johnny Otis, copyright ©1995 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. The 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 Jive."

 

 

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