Chiefly Southern US
1. See peanut.
2. A yokel; a bumpkin.
3. A foolish or silly person.
4. A gob of phlegm.
[Of Bantu origin; akin to Kongo or Kimbundu n-guba.]
Word History: Most Southerners recognize the terms goober and goober pea as other names for the peanut. Goober originates among the Bantu languages and is akin to the word meaning "peanut" in the Kongo and Kimbundu languages, n-guba. This regionalism is one of a small stock of words that entered American English from the languages spoken by the Africans who were enslaved and brought to the Americas during the 1600s and 1700s. Many of these words of African origin have to do with foods. Gumbo, for example, is also of Bantu origin—it is related to such words as Tshiluba ki-ngumbo, "okra." (In some regional varieties of English in the South, gumbo can still mean simply "okra" in addition to "thick okra stew.") Yam originates among the languages of West Africa, and it may be akin to Wolof ñam, meaning "food" and "to eat" or to Bambara ñambu, "manioc." The English word cooter probably comes from the Mande languages—the Bambara and Malinke word for a turtle, for example, is kuta. Cooter is still used in South Carolina, Georgia, and the Gulf states to denote the edible freshwater turtle of the genus Chrysemys and, by extension, other turtles and tortoises.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.