E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Fox Talbot says this is St. Johns berry, being ripe about St. Johns Day. [This must be John the Baptist, at the end of August, not John the Evangelist, at the beginning of May.] Hence, he says, it is called in Holland Jansbeeren. Jans-beeren, he continues, has been corrupted into Gans-beeren, and Gans is the German for goose. This is very ingenious, but gorse (furze) offers a simpler derivation. Gorse-berry (the prickly berry) would be like the German stachel-beere (the prickly berry), and kraus - beere (the rough gooseberry), from krauen (to scratch). Krausbeere, Gorse-berry, Gooseberry. In Scotland it is called grosser. (See BEARS GARLICK.)
To play gooseberry is to go with two lovers for appearance sake. The person who plays propriety is expected to hear, see, and say nothing. (See GOOSE-BERRY PICKER.)
He played up old gooseberry with me. He took great liberties with my property, and greatly abused it; in fact, he made gooseberry fool of it. (See below.)