You’ve probably heard of trainspotters, people who occupy much of their free time watching trains go by and noting which locomotives and cars they’ve spotted. They may even take pictures. The apparent vacuity of this avocation has led to trainspotting becoming also one of the less vulgar terms for wasting time. Well, trainspotter has a kin, one that in its extended sense carries perhaps an even greater sense of slack jaws and vacant eyes. The very origin of this word is thought to be two terms for blank staring: Lincolnshire dialect gawn and gooze. You easily get the sense of gawping and gaping, jaws yawning, ga-ga, as though bamboozled (or just sozzled on booze), a goon, a loser, gone from the world, with an empty head that would ring like a gong if banged. Yet there are those who happily claim the name: those great, intrepid souls who choose freely to while their hours watching locks and yachts and cargo barges, the viewing gallery of a canal. Wave at them as you wend on the water, these riparian kibitzers, these bywater bystanders, the idlers on the towpath.
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