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1785, American English, perhaps 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 writes that it "need not have been derived from gowk. It is possibly another independent imitative formation with the structure g-k. Related: Gawked; gawking.
To stare; gape stupidly: locals gathered to gawk at strange lights/ They went in and out of the garage to gawk at the body
[1785+; fr dialect gawk, gouk, ''fool, idiot,'' literally ''cuckoo'']