What does ‘gamboling’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: gamboling…

If you had asked me what the word “gamboling” meant, I would have told you, correctly, that it refers to running or jumping about playfully. I might even have quoted — incorrectly — from the poem Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll, pictured above:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gambol in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogroves,

And the mome rathes outgrabe.

Some 45 years after learning the poem, I can still recite it. But it turns out, when I looked it up, that those toves were not gamboling. Instead, they were gimbling. I’d remembered the word incorrectly. (You can see the correct version of the entire poem here.)

So much for my classical education.

I encountered the word gamboling recently in the novel Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. Here is how the author used it;

Smith, indeed, when once he had his shoes flat on the cobles, took off at such a speed despite the gamboling of his land-legs that he far out-paced the sailor dispatched to carry his trunk… gamboling gamboling gamboling gamboling

Despite knowing the meaning of the term, I knew nothing about its etymology. It comes from the Middle French gambader, and may also be related to the Middle English word, gambon or a “a ham” — referring, I presume to those legs required for running or jumping.

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