In January, phone footage appeared on social media of a wildly unsavoury punch-up at a lower-league (Fédérale 1) French rugby local derby, with players and officials from both teams – Hyères-Carqueiranne and La Seyne – engaging in a rare old set-to. When picked up by mainstream media, one headline read: “Bagarres, cartons rouges à gogo”. (Fights, red cards à gogo).
The phrase à gogo in this context – as in English – means ‘abundant’ or ‘galore’ (more of which later) and certainly bears no resemblance to its original usage: the expression dates back to the 15th century, when gogo was a repetition of the French word go, which came from the word “gogue”, signifying “rejoicing or jubilation”.
“A Gogo” is perhaps best known to the Anglophone ear for its appearance in the name of the famous Whisky a Go Go music venue in Hollywood, Los Angeles. But this venue in turn owes its name to the first discothèque (with DJs playing music instead of a live band) – the Whisky à Gogo, established in Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera by Paul Pacini. The entertainment was provided by women wearing short-skirts and knee-high boots – they soon became known as ‘go-go girls’.
In true etymological deep-dive fashion, we learn that the nightspot itself took the name from the 1947 British novel Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie, set in the Outer Hebrides during World War Two.
As for the word gogue, it gave rise to être en goguette, which means being in a great mood, generally jovial, or specifically, “being on a bender” – if you forgive our slang. It was coined in the mid-19th century to describe someone “who gets a little drunk and allows himself to have unrestrained fun.”