"stare stupidly," 1785, American English, of uncertain origin. Perhaps [Watkins] from gaw, a survival from Middle English gowen "to stare" (c. 1200), from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse ga "to heed," from Proto-Germanic *gawon, from PIE *ghow-e- "to honor, revere, worship" (see favor (n.)); and altered perhaps by gawk hand (see gawky). Liberman finds this untenable and writes that its history is entangled with that of gowk "cuckoo," which is from Scandinavian, but it need not be from that word, either. Nor is French gauche (itself probably from Germanic) considered a likely source. "It is possibly another independent imitative formation with the structure g-k" (compare geek). From 1867 as a noun. Related: Gawked; gawking.
updated on February 24, 2015