Early use of ‘gander’ not so innocent in a wife-free month

MANY years ago I was responsible for saying a person had been "out of the office" when the newspaper I represented had sought a comment from him. He was most upset and made his feelings known the next day. In response to the flippant comment, "Were you out with your girlfriend?" he replied, "Actually I was, and now my wife knows.".

I thought of that when the subject of gander came up.

Now, gander is a very innocent word. Some people I know are called Gander.

But it has an interesting past. If you happen to be pregnant, you might like to know something about this word.

With nothing interesting to watch on television, I was casually looking through Captain Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue when my eyes came across the entry for gander month. Grose's definition was: "That month in which a man's wife lies in, wherefore, during that time, husbands plead a sort of indulgence in matters of gallantry."

Whatever did he mean?

If you feel you or your loved one shouldn't read any more, please divert your attention now. I would hate to be accused of giving anyone ideas.

But from what I can gather, several hundred years ago men were known to divert their attention to other pleasantries while their wives were "unavailable". Of course, it doesn't happen now.

English wordsmith Michael Quinion put it in writing when he said women, after giving birth, spent a month or so regaining their strength while their menfolk, to put things crudely, went a roving.

This period was called a gander month. Quinion quoted one writer who said the male "must make shift for himself" and another writer said "a certain licence in behaviour is excusable in the male". Quinion called a spade a spade when he said some husbands "slept around".

My 20-volume dictionary says a gander month is the month after a woman's confinement and it gives some examples of what this month means to men while their women recover their strength.

It mentions a gander party, "a social party of men only".

I should mention that the dictionary says the word gander can also be used to refer to "a dull or stupid person". In 1553 a writer said a person had tried the law so hard that "he proves himself a gander".

In the United States a slang definition of gander is "a married man not living with his wife".

Some doubt has been expressed about whether the gander we are talking about has the same origins as the masculine of the goose, a word that was first recorded in English in the year 1000 with the spelling gandra. The gander of the goose variety, if I can use that term, has been known to wander aimlessly while the goose is sitting.

Incidentally, gander pulling is a so-called sport, mainly in the United States, where "a horseman riding at full speed tries to clutch the greased neck of a live gander suspended by the feet and to pull its head off".

It sounds like something a woman would think of doing to a man, a gander mooner, who should happen to go wandering to places where he shouldn't.

Probably if he does no more than "take a gander" he might be OK.

Michael Quinion said Spike Milligan wrote a Goon Show item for Harry Secombe in which Secombe asked the shopkeeper: "Do you mind if I take a gander around the shop?" The shopkeeper replied: No, so long as it's housetrained."

By the way, my wife is not pregnant.

lbword@midcoast.com.au

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