I’m about two-thirds of the way through Daniel Martin (see this post), and once again I’ve learned an excellent word. In the long and absorbing chapter “Phyllida” (which could stand on its own as a story about first love), he talks about “the countless Midland and North-country grockles that invade the West every summer”; a trip to the dictionary revealed that “‘Grockle’ is an informal and often slightly derogatory term for a tourist.” I quote the opening of What is the origin of the word ‘grockle’?, from Oxforddictionaries.com, which goes on to tell the following interesting story:
It was first popularized because of its use by the characters in the film The System (1962), which is set in the Devon resort of Torquay during the summer season. Some older dictionaries suggested that it might be a West Country dialect word. Other scholars have put forward the theory that it originated in a comparison of red-faced tourists (wearing baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads) to ‘Grock’, a clown and music-hall performer who was famous in the first half of the 20th century.
The word ‘grockle’ was indeed picked up by The System‘s scriptwriter from local people during filming in Torquay. However, it was apparently not an ‘old local dialect word’. According to research by a local journalist in the mid-1990s, the word in fact originated from a strip cartoon in the children’s comic Dandy entitled ‘Danny and his Grockle’. (The grockle was a magical dragon-like creature.) A local man, who had had a summer job at a swimming pool during as a youngster, said that he had used the term as a nickname for a small elderly lady who was a regular customer one season. During banter in the pub among the summer workers, ‘grockle’ then became generalized as a term for summer visitors.
This development seems to have occurred in, or only shortly before, the summer in which The System was filmed: the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary has no examples of the word dating from before the release of The System (though one or two people from the south-west remain convinced that they knew it before then).
Now, that’s what I call lexicographical sleuthing! And I love the sly final parenthesis; the older I get, the more I realize that people’s self-reporting about language is utterly worthless. We’re all too ready to convince ourselves that we’ve been saying something all our lives, or heard it back in our hometown in the ’50s, when in fact we picked it up from a magazine or movie much later.
Another new word to me (albeit a much less useful one) occurs earlier in the same chapter: “He must go round by another lane, behind the farm, ‘up over’, walk along the top of the hill till he came to the beechwood, enter it where there was an old stone linhay, in ruins and covered in ivy…” “Linhay” turns out to be a West Country dialect term (of unknown origin) for a storage shed; the interesting thing is that the phrase “an old stone linhay” occurs in Galsworthy’s Beyond (1917): “An old stone linhay, covered to its broken thatch by a huge ivy bush, stood at the angle where the meadows met.” Deliberate allusion, unconscious reminiscence, or pure coincidence? You be the judge.