(Oxford English Dictionary)
[Perhaps a shortened form of dial. gooney (GONY 1) 'a booby, a simpleton'; but more immediately from the name of a subhuman creature called Alice the Goon in a popular cartoon series by E. C. Segar (1894-1938), American cartoonist.]
1. A stolid, dull, or stupid person. orig. U.S.
1921 F. L. ALLEN in Harper's Mag. Dec. 121/1 (title) The Goon and his Style. Ibid. 121/2 A goon is a person with a heavy touch as distinguished from a jigger, who has a light touch. While jiggers look on life with a genial eye, goons take a more stolid and literal view. 1938 Life 14 Nov. 6/3 The word 'Goon' was first popularized by college students who used it to mean any stupid person. Labor union lingo has given it a second meaning: a tough or thug. Rival unions and factions speak of another's 'Goon Squads'. 1938 R. CHANDLER Trouble is my Business (1950) 80 Some goon here plays chess. You? 1940 R. STOUT Over My Dead Body iv. 57 You may be a couple of goons... But I'm asking you a damn straight question. 1942 D. POWELL Time to be Born (1943) vii. 175 You sit there gawping at him like some little goon. 1945 PARTRIDGE Dict. R.A.F. Slang 30 Goon, a fool, very stupid fellow; a gaper.
2. A person hired (esp. by racketeers) to terrorize workers; a thug. orig. U.S.
1938 Amer. Speech XIII. 178 In the Pacific Northwest we hear the word goon on every hand. Locally a goon is a member of a labor-union's beef-squad; that is, a person of imposing physique and inferior moral and mental qualities who can be depended on to cow and frighten recalcitrant union-members. 1938 [see sense 1 above]. 1940 Chicago Tribune 28 Jan. 1/8 'Goon' is a term applied to hired sluggers used in labor troubles... A typical goon murder was the recent killing in Chicago of..a garage~man involved in a union dispute. 1959 [see FINK n.2]. 1969 New Yorker 20 Dec. 88/3 Many so-called 'goons' civilian terrorists, sometimes dressed in Constabulary uniformstook over in many provinces.
12 April 1911, Washington Post, pg. 6:
SAY, ARE YOU A "GHOON?"
Very Well, Then, If You're Not, Then
You're a "Jigger."
From the New York World.
Are you a "ghoon" or are you a "jigger?" If you don't know which you are, or even what a "ghoon" or a "jigger" is, there are those in plenty -- mostly "jiggers," by the way -- who can, with one swift, searching glance of practiced appraisal, stamp, tag, label, brand, catalogue, and classify you beyond any hope of future change or escape.
This may sound foolish, but 'tis a fact that "ghoon" and "jigger" speculation has become quite the fad in New York and New England.
A World reporter, hearing so much about "ghoons" and "jiggers," sought out a society oracle.
"What is it all about, and what is a 'ghoon' and what is a 'jigger,' prithee tell?" he asked.
"You're a 'jigger,'" the oracle replied, "and so I will tell you. I wouldn't bother to explain to a 'ghoon,' for he wouldn't understand.
"One cannot really explain the difference between ghoons and jiggers. It has to be sensed, as it were, but as soon as one catches on he can always tell a jigger from a ghoon at the first glance. The whole world is divided into ghoons and jiggers.
"Men as a class are ghoons and women are jiggers; but there are a few stray male jiggers and perhaps more female ghoons. The man who always wears his rubbers and carries an umbrella when the sky holds no hint of rain is a ghoon. An old batchelor is generally a ghoon, and so is the average old maid. Ghoons are usually of a phlegmatic temperament, or old Bettyish, or fussy, or stupid, or intolerant, or dull, or pompous, or morbid, or narrow, or listless. Jiggers are more lively, irresponsible, or flighty, or unbalanced, often brilliant, charming, happy-go-lucky, optimistic. Frequently they are fidgety and restless. As a general rule ghoons gather moss and the jiggers collect sunshine. The jiggers are the more delightful people to meet and go around with, but the ghoons, although harder to please and to cook for, are, after all, the most dependable. Now, do you catch the idea?"
"I'll be jiggered if I do," sighed the bewildered reporter, his brain whirling and seething.
Even the oracle could not state with authority just where this new fad originated. Rumor attributes it to the fair students at Smith College, Northahmpton, Mass. "Tis said that they first cleaved huamnity in twain as ghoons and jiggers. Certain it is that the fad has taken Greater New York by storm. It threatens to supplant even bridge.
At the theater, in the lobster palaces, in the lobbys and "peacock alleys," wherever women congregate, their conversational temperature rises to a fever heat. "He's a ghoon" or "she's a jigger" has supplanted in popularity as a conversational topic the erstwhile "Isn't he handsome?" and "What a perfect fright of a costume"