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Definition: Something that is not quite right. A confused state. Askew.

Pronunciation: Say it like you see it. Gah-lee-west

Origin: A slang term of obscure origin. It entered into American English in the 1830s. The Oxford English dictionary suggests that it might refer to the English village of Collyweston – though this is speculative. It has also been postulated that it could originally be a nautical term that arose when something was thrown around the galley of a ship (for example, by an impact).

I myself am more inclined to believe the nautical explanation as there is no obvious reason why the name for a little-known English village should morph into an American slang term.

Why This Word: Words with no definitive origin have always sparked my interest: even more so when the word itself at first glance seems completely unrelated to its description. Galleywest,  on first encounter, would not suggest a meaning of ‘askew’. Also – and this is a sweeping, stereotypical statement – galleywest simply does not sound like an Americanism. And this intrigues me.

How to use the word galleywest in a sentence?

I suspect that this word could be understood if properly deployed. For example, if someone was to describe my office at work, they might say that “There are piles of paper on his desk that obscure him from view. The printer has obviously been broken for quite some time and the files are spread galleywest on the table.”


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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