type of thorny shrub with hairy fruit, cultivated in northern Europe, 1530s, with berry, but the first part is of uncertain origin; no part of the plant seems to suggest a goose. Watkins points to Old French grosele "gooseberry," which is from Germanic. Or perhaps from German Krausebeere or Kräuselbeere, related to Middle Dutch croesel "gooseberry," and to German kraus "crispy, curly" [Klein, etc.]. By either path it could be related to the Germanic group of words in kr-/cr- and meaning "to bend, curl; bent, crooked; rounded mass." Under this theory, gooseberry would be folk etymology. But OED editors find no reason to prefer this to a literal reading, because "the grounds on which plants and fruits have received names associating them with animals are so commonly inexplicable, that the want of appropriateness in the meaning affords no sufficient ground for assuming that the word is an etymological corruption."
As slang for a fool, 1719, perhaps an extended form of goose (n.) in this sense, or a play on gooseberry fool in the cookery sense. Gooseberry also meant "a chaperon" (1837) and "a marvelous tale." Old Gooseberry for "the Devil" is recorded from 1796. In euphemistic explanations of reproduction to children, babies sometimes were said to be found under a gooseberry bush.
updated on April 03, 2015