GROAK.

This week’s NYT “On Language” column is by Ammon Shea, an enjoyable but scattershot writer who takes on the issue of vocabulary size: not, this time, “what language has the most words?” but another perennial favorite, “does a bigger vocabulary make you a better person?” The discussion is fairly predictable and the conclusion unexceptionable (you should learn new words because they give you “something pleasant to think about”), but I was quite taken with one of his examples, groak, which he defines as “staring silently at someone while they eat”; my wife and I realized immediately that we should have named our cat Pushkin “Groak” instead. Of course, I checked to make sure there actually was such a word; it’s not in the OED, but it is in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang: “groak n. also growk [20C+] (Ulster) a child who sits watching others eating, in the hope of being asked to join them. [synon. Scot. groak].” It’s also in the Dictionary of the Scots Language:

GROWK, v., n. Also grook, grouk, groak, groke, groach. [grʌuk, gro:k] I. v. 1. To look at someone with a watchful or suspicious eye; to look longingly at something, esp. of a child or dog begging for food … †By extension: to come thoroughly awake after a sleep, sc. by focussing the eyes on surrounding objects (Dmf. 1825 Jam.).
  *Ags. 1808 Jam.:
  Grouk is often used, as denoting the watchfulness of a very niggardly person, who is still afraid that any of his property be given away or carried off.
  *Gall. a.1813 A. Murray Hist. Eur. Langs. (1823) I. 393:
  To groke, in Scotish, is to stretch for meat like a dog.
  *Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) xviii.:
  Nathan was stanin’ at the table as uswal, growk-growkin’ awa’ for a bit o’ my tea biskit. “I dinna like growkin’ bairns,” I says to Nathan.
  *Per. 1900 E.D.D.:
  There’s the gamekeeper groakin’ aboot.
  2. To look intently or wistfully so as to attract attention.
  *Rs. 1944 C. M. Maclean Farewell to Tharrus 79:
  She grooked a little, and tried to lick my chin. “Where’s Laddie?” I whispered to her. She whined and ran off.
  II. n. 1. “A child who waits about at meal-times in the expectation of getting something to eat” (Ant. 1892 Ballymena Obs. (E.D.D.)).
  2. “A mute, wistful look by a child on any article greatly desired” (Ags.4 1920).

Also, if I were writing a sentence beginning “In 1664 an anonymously written pamphlet, ‘Vindex Anglicus,’…” it would continue “…urged that the window of English be wiped clean of absurd Latinate words.”

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    It’s inexplicable to me that such a useful word disappeared. Not at all like a name for badger suet.

  2. Bill Walderman says:

    Your cat Pushkin and my dog Qimmik.

  3. I don’t think it’s disappeared completely. My family always used it in the context of our dog, though I’ve no idea if the word was passed downwards or laterally.

  4. How can you tell if they’re groaking or merely grokking?

  5. Trond Engen says:

    Ah. I knew they had some purpose.

  6. Is anyone going to hazard an etymology for it? Is it Norse, or maybe Gaelic, or ooooh even better, a Brythonic relic in Lallands? And is there any real link to grok, as Nijma points out?

  7. mollymooly says:

    If it’s badger, it “suett”.

  8. Do badgers groak?

  9. Bathrobe says:

    Would a beggar standing outside a restaurant window looking at the diners within with a view to cadging a meal be described as “groaking”?

  10. Bathrobe says:

    Just think how much atmospheric writing would be rendered redundant if we had useful words for everything.
    “Three beggars were groaking me through the window. I finished my meal, paid and left with the groakers in hot pursuit. I shook off all but one forloiner.”

  11. Badgers? Nah, they live underground. Very shy. They may very well grok though, not much else to do when your whole life is digging tunnels.

  12. Are kids ever mute and wistful nowadays?

  13. Badgers may be shy, but watch your feet. WiPe says:
    A Scandinavian custom is to put eggshells or styrofoam in one’s boots when walking through badger territory, as badgers are believed to bite down until they can hear a crunch.[citation needed]
    Perhaps one of our Norway correspondents can confirm this.

  14. Is anyone going to hazard an etymology for it?
    Just a guess, but OE had gerǽcan as well as the forms without the prefix which led to modern reach.

  15. But there is more in our lost lexicon of gastronomy – esculent “good to eat”, gulch “to swallow hungrily”, shotclog “the companion tolerated because he or she pays for drinks, potvaliant “someone who is courageous through drink”.
    ~~~~~~~~~
    FWIW, groak is also in the Online Scots Dictionary,

    growk [grʌuk, gro:k]
    v. To look longingly or suspiciously at something.

    n. A wistful look by a child for something greatly desired.

    …but doesn’t turn up in online dictionaries for Old Norse or Irish. By some odd coincidence it turns up in Depraved and Insulting English by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea, as well as several other word books. It’s also a surname, and a chemical process for recovering iodine.
    Here is a very odd usage of groak–Breton??: “It was at once venerated by the peasants of the district, who styled it in the Breton “Groak en Goard, The Woman of la Couarde,” and set it up over a large …”
    ~~~~~~~~~
    Grok…Was Robert Heinlein by any chance Scottish?
    ~~~~~~~~~
    put eggshells or styrofoam in one’s boots
    “citation needed” indeed. When Scandinavian-born Americans want to catch a badger they dig into one of the tunnels, put in a trap (anchored to the ground so it doesn’t run off with the trap attached), and then cover up the hole again. You’re more likely to twist your ankle when you step on the soft earth over the tunnel than to have a badger try to snack on your sneakers. Today I, the quintessential Wobegonian, was walking all over the badger tunnels I linked to above–fearlessly–and the badgers must have known it because not one of them dashed out to crunch on my sneakers.

  16. Maybe this explains the name of the character “The Groke” in English translations of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The Groke is an unsettling creature who arrives silently and stares.

  17. John Emerson says:

    Shotclog “the companion tolerated because he or she pays for drinks”
    Call me a sexist, but all of the (unfortunately few) shotclogs I’ve ever known are guys.

  18. A Scandinavian custom is to put eggshells or styrofoam in one’s boots when walking through badger territory, as badgers are believed to bite down until they can hear a crunch.[citation needed]
    Perhaps one of our Norway correspondents can confirm this.
    I can confirm that we put coals down the sides of our wellingtons for this purpose. The local badgers were using our garden as a public convenience one year–not that it was so very convenient for them, they came all the way down the hill from their set for the opportunity of availing themselves of the facilities in one patch by the gates–they are slightly disconcerting (frightening) to meet face to face at night if you’re not used to them.

  19. “GROWK, ….(Dmf”, it says. I never heard it as a child, so I can only conclude that the “Dmf” refers to Western Dumfriesshire. Savages, that lot.

  20. “Groak en Goard”
    That sounds like a different Groak. That sounds like Gruach, MacBeth’s wife, derived from gruach – crane.
    “Maybe this explains the name of the character “The Groke” in English translations of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The Groke is an unsettling creature who arrives silently and stares.”
    Now here we go. Thanks xiaolongnu. Is that the creature that sat out on the lawn looking into the house and left dead spots where the grass died of utter despair? It even has the old agentive suffix.
    “When Scandinavian-born Americans want to catch a badger they dig into one of the tunnels…”
    Do German-americans throw in a dachshund and then stand back to watch the show?
    “Just a guess, but OE had gerǽcan as well as the forms without the prefix which led to modern reach.”
    I like this one too. It’s not a big semantic stretch. Although it is a stretch of the imagination to think that any actual English would leak that far north.

  21. Do German-americans throw in a dachshund and then stand back to watch the show?
    Dunno about German Americans, but when I was a kid in Germany many years ago my aunt had 2 dachshunds, one of which instinctively went down the burrow but couldn’t figure out how to back out. It cost her a lot in bribes to the parks workers she would summon to dig her dog out.

  22. I love that story, Gary. Dachshunds deserve their reputation for stubbornness, but not for brains.

  23. The Breton “groak” looks like it’s cognate with Welsh “gwraig” (wife, woman). There’s the Welsh word “gwanc” meaning ‘greed’ but don’t know if it’s connected?

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Whatever their meanings, “gwanc” is unlikely to be connected to “gwraig”. The -r- in the middle precludes it, as well as the different sounds at the end of the two words. .

  25. I wonder if there is a connection between crane and crone in English, considering the mythic link between cranes and magical women.

  26. Yikes. Etymology of crone. So, although the word has been claimed with pride by some elders in this age, it didn’t start out that way at all.

  27. “carogne”
    So that’s what that word means. I know it can’t be ancestral to “kaering’ in Swedish, but it’s a more satisfying etymology that “kaerling > kaering” that I have heard.
    Hat or anyone, is there a term for words that have unrelated etymologies but sort of float together in the langauge so that they eventually look and feel related, like crane and crone? I saw a site that listed phonesthemes in Englsih where there were examples of words getting “captured” by the phonesthemic group in that the phonetic similarity eventually influenced the semantics of the word and it slipped into the orbit of the phonestheme.

  28. That may have happened with crisp, too (which originally just meant ‘curly (of hair),’ Latin crispus). Don’t know of a term for it, though.

  29. For me, the word that ‘crone’ accidentally keeps company with is ‘crony’ — maybe because of the phrase ‘old crony’.

  30. John Emerson says:

    The words haven’t merged yet, but I think that in most people’s understanding “hoard” and “horde” seem related somehow, meaning something like “a disorganized heap or throng”. But they’re completely unrelated; “horde” is from the Mongol “ordo”(cognate with “Ordos” and “Urdu”) and basically means a khan’s encampment and people.
    It’s contaminated by prejudice, too, because the ordo was a well-organized group, but to the Mongol’s enemies it seemed like a disorganized mob.

  31. So we need a word for the process and then also for the words it happens to. Can we come up with anything as clever as atisoff’s “cheshirization”?
    Maybe these words get “drafted” into the phonestehme, so they are “draftees”.

  32. Bathrobe says:

    Niggardly

  33. David Marjanović says:

    in most people’s understanding “hoard” and “horde” seem related somehow

    Few people seem to know how to spell either of them.
    In English, that is. In German, the High German consonant shift comes to the rescue: Hort, Horde.

  34. What about wiz (short for wizard) and whiz for someone who is very fast or skillful at some pursuit?

  35. I agree: wiz/whiz is a great example.

  36. John Emerson says:

    I have an obscure and slightly conjectural example. Longer ago than I care to think I spent a couple of weeks in a poor rural area of Colorado which had been Spanish speaking for 300 years or so. One of the guys I was with used the word “pro” for a man who did the things he had to do, someone who did his job and took care of his family and was a leader in the community and brave fighter if need be. He used the word a lot. I became convinced that for him the English word “pro” had merged with the Spanish word “pro”, which has a more extensive meaning than the English word, more in line t=with the way my friend used it.

  37. Are you talking about pro as in un hombre de pro (“Que cumple puntualmente sus obligaciones; que se distingue por sus buenas cualidades”)? It’s from Latin prode, if anyone was wondering.

  38. Merry crispus.

  39. John Emerson says:

    Yes, exactly. In English a pro is more like someone who is highly skilled at his job and always comes through, which is consistent with the Spanish, but it does not really extend to one’s whole character. For example, Pete Rose was a pro’s pro on the field, but off the field, not at all.

  40. John Emerson says:

    I have a feeling that for him “pro” included and required macho (which for him was a prime value), but was more than that, and added the ideas of responsibility and caring. Someone can be macho in the sense of being brave, tough, proud, and sexy, but not have those other things.

  41. pro/macho
    Except that, in English at least, macho is usually pejorative. This is not the type of guy you would introduce to your sister. In English the opposite of “pro” would be more like “amateur” (“pro golf”).

  42. John Emerson says:

    What I’m saying is that my friend’s understanding of “pro” included the English understanding of “pro”, plus the Spanish understanding of “macho”, plus the additional virtues I mentioned. And in 1974 or so, even in English “macho” wasn’t always negative, but in Spanish it was entirely positive.

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