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.”