Forms: 3 giuegoue, 5-8 gugaw, (5 gwgawe, 7 gugawe, guga), 6-8 guegaw, 6 gue gaw, guy-gaw, 7 guegaye, gugau, guigaw; 6-7 gew(e)gawe, 7 gewgai(e, gew-gaude, 8 geugaw, 9 dial. gewgow, geegaw, 6- gewgaw, gew-gaw.
Etymology and primary sense uncertain; a reduplicated formation such as is commonly found in words of contemptuous signification. If the original application be to a musical instrument, the word may have been invented as an imitation of the sound; cf. Du. giegagen to hee-haw', bray. On the other hand, if the primary notion was that of a gaudy object', the suggestion may have come from the vb. gaw, with its variants or synonyms gow, gew. It is not impossible that the word as applied to a musical instrument may be an independent formation. The mod.Du. giegauw, recorded once in the sense flourish, scalloped border', and now preserved only in a phrase of obscure origin belonging to the game of merels, is supposed by the Du. lexicographers to be an adoption of the Eng. word. The commonly accepted view has been that the earliest form, which is written giuegoue (Ancren Riwle) should be read as givegove, and that the word is a reduplicated formation from the root of give v. On this supposition it would be identical with giff-gaff and the MDu. ghiveghave, of which a single example is known. But if this were the etymology, the initial would have been , not g, in the southern texts of the Ancren Riwle (unless indeed these texts have been transcribed from an original in northern dialect). Further, the proposed explanation does not account plausibly for the recorded senses, and it is doubtful whether the assumed development of givegove into gugaw (15th c.), guygaw (16th c.), gewgaw, is phonetically possible. The probability is that the u in giuegoue is a vowel.
a, gaudy trifle, plaything, or ornament, a pretty thing of little value, a toy or bauble.
b, fig. A paltry thing of no account, a trifle. In pl. also, vanities'.
c, Used depreciatingly of a person.
2, a disparaging term for a flute or pipe.
3, attrib. passing into adj.: of the nature of a gewgaw, resembling gewgaws; hence fig. splendidly trifling, showy without value
1529 Skelton Sp. Parrot 474 So myche tournyng on the cooke stole for every guy-gaw.
1630 R. Johnson's Kingd. & Commw. 60 With gewgaies of copper and latton about their armes and necks.
1631 R. H. Arraignm. Whole Creature iv. 24 Which feed the Soule as much as Guegayes, or painted Plumes can feed the bodies of beasts, or birds.
1693 Dryden Juvenal x. (1697) 248 A heavy Gugaw, (call'd a Crown,) that spred About his Temples.
1720 Welton Suffer. Son of God I. xi. 289 Every childish Gugaw,takes Possession of me.
1807-8 W. Irving Salmag. (1824) 280 He who has most ribands and gew-gaws on his coat.
1845 R. W. Hamilton Pop. Educ. x. (ed. 2) 318 The toy and the gewgaw no more can divert.
1861 Dickens Gt. Expect. lvi, The sheriffs with their civic gewgaws and monsters.
1225 Ancr. R. 196 Worldes weole, & wunne, & wurschipe, & over swuche giuegouen (v.rr. giuegaue(n, gyuelgowue).
1529 Skelton Ware the Hauke 157 Of the spiritual law They made but a gewgaw.
1574 tr. Marlorat's Apocalips 11 Free will, purgatorie, and such other gew-gawes wherby the bloud of gods sonne is troden vnder foote.
1639 Massinger Unnat. Combat i. B 3, This is indeed great businesse mine a gugawe.
1702 Eng. Theophrast. 289 Philemon wants none of those curious gewgaws which make all the accomplishments of our modern beaux.
1754 Fielding Remedy Afflict. Wks. 1775 IX. 260 All the trash and trifles, the bubbles, bawbles, and gewgaws of this life.
1832 J. W. Croker in C. Papers 15 Aug. (1884) If, in the storm-portending times in which we live, the gewgaws of art or literature are worth a thought.
1879 E. Garrett' House by Wks. II. 168 Her accomplishments had not been the mere gewgaws which accomplishments so frequently are.
1634 Ford P. Warbeck i. i, Ireland The common stage of Noveltie, presented This gewgaw to oppose vs.1638 -Fancies i. ii, Th'art a citterne headed gew, gaw.
1735 Pope Donne's Sat. iv. 209 Such painted puppets! such a varnish'd race Of hollow gew-gaws, only dress and face!
1790 J. B. Moreton Mann. W. Ind. 105 Creoles when deprived of the advantage of an European education, are awkward, ignorant guegaws.
1876 Mid-Yorksh. Gloss., Gewgow also used figuratively, of a simpleton.1440 Promp. Parv. 168/1 Flowte, pype Pastor sub caula bene cantat cum calamaula The scheperd vndyr ﬁe folde syngythe well wythe his gwgawe ﬁe pype.
1788 W. Marshall Yorksh. II. Gloss. (E.D.S.) Gewgaw, a Jew's harp.
1855 Robinson Whitby Gloss., Gewgow, a Jew's harp; any nick-nack or trifle.
1631 R. Brathwait Eng. Gentlew. 20 What a shop of guga nifles hang vpon one backe!
1678 Dryden All for Love ii. i, Give to your Boy, your CÊsar, This Rattle of a Globe to play withal, This Gu-gau World.
1680 Earl of Rochester Poems (1705) 15 But if you are fond of Baubles, be, and starve, your guegaw Reputation still preserve.
1714 Rowe J. Shore iii. i, The Dainty gew-gaw Forms dissolve at once, And shiver at the Shock.
1732 Law Serious C. xii. (ed. 2) 196 The gugaw-happiness of Feliciana.Ibid. xix. 350 If many women are vain, light, gugaw creatures, they have this to excuse themselves.
1754 Richardson Grandison (ed. 7) II. 174 His quality! Gewgaw. What is a Scottish peerage?
1762 Churchill Ghost iv. 992 The gew-gaw robes of Pomp and Pride.
1812 H. & J. Smith Rej. Addr. v. Introd., The gewgaw fetters of rhyme.
1855 Tennyson Maud i. x. 18 Seeing his gewgaw castle shine New as his title, built last year.
1888 Rider Haggard Col. Quaritch xvi, Looking_at the gee-gaw ornaments.
1631 R. Brathwait Whimzies ii. Pedler 19 Here the Guga-girles gingle it with his neat nifl.
The Oxford English dictionary
, 2nd ed. Edited by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Clarendon Press, 1989. [See biblography