Is it time to celebrate the wayzgoose?

What is the meaning of wayzgoose?

When I worked in publishing in England almost two decades ago, one of the graphic design companies we used was called Wayzgoose Design. I had never come across this unusual word before and, of course, I looked it up. It proved to be an industry word with a delightful history.

A wayzgoose is the traditional annual event held by English printers and publishers to mark the end of the summer. In pre-gas and pre-electricity days it really marked the beginning of the season when they had to do their printing by candlelight. The wayzgoose was often held on the Saturday closest to the feast day of St. Bartholomew (24 August, obviously in the northern hemisphere the summer is mid-year).

During a wayzgoose, the head of the printing and publishing houses would organise a dinner or celebration for their employees and apprentices to feast, drink, and celebrate.  As I was working in publishing house at the time, I thought it a absolutely delightful idea.

We sacrific’d the goose, and mirth pursu’d;

As that delicious bird about this time,

Call’d for the knife, and was in season prime.

The masters hence their journeymen invite,

To dine abroad, or spend the merry night.

What is the word origin of wayzgoose?

Despite this little bit of verse from Lloyd’s Evening Post in 1750 the celebration is unlikely to have got its name from a goose. The goose reference is more likely a joke on the name.

However, the word history is not clear. In 1731, lexicographer Nathaniel Bailey argued, that it came from wayz, meaning stubble. He respelt the word wayzgoose to make the supposed derivation clearer. There is a “stubble-goose” mentioned by Chaucer but no obvious connection. Bailey’s suggestion was that a goose fattened on harvest stubble was served as the main dish at the feast. Though it continued to be spelled as way-goose by almost everybody else (until the nineteenth century when the “z” was used to make it fit Bailey’s story).

Much printing and publishing terminology was borrowed from Dutch and German printers by their English apprentices. So a more likely origin of the word is from Weg(s)huis an early Modern Dutch  word (literally, way house). This is equivalent to the English inn and was figuratively used for a banquet presumably at a licensed premises. This theory seems to make more sense—the equivalent would be the modern day work outing for a meal.

Where can you celebrate it?

The tradition of  wayzgoose is no longer widely observed in the printing and publishing industry (sadly). However, some people still hold wayzgoose celebrations to try to restore this wonderful old printing tradition.

And in Australia the word is not so obscure as you may think. In 1978 ABC television ran a children’s sketch comedy show called Wayzgoose. There was a quite famous independent and reclusive printer, The Wayzgoose Press, operating in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains (NSW) until 2012. And there is a Wayzgoose printing festival held in Western Australia in June if you want to really celebrate.

So the wayzgoose in not yet cooked.