The radio show A Way With Words had an episode last year called Gradu or Gradoo, an Unusual Word Meaning Gunk or Schmutz; this interested me greatly, because my wife’s family uses it (I have never heard it from anyone else). It’s only five minutes long, but if you don’t feel like listening, all the actual information is contained in this summary:

Kelly from Cincinnati, Ohio, says her father uses the word gradoo to mean “clutter” or “a bit of litter.” Also spelled gradu or gradeau, our listeners report using this word in a variety of ways, to mean “gunk,” “grime” and even “bits of meat left in a skillet used to make gravy.” It might be related to French gadoue, which once meant “manure.” It might also be somehow connected with the French Canadian expression gras dur [which] literally means “really fatty,” or figuratively “happy” or “lucky” or “fulfilled,” as in Il est gras dur, “He is happy,” although how that sense might connect with gradoo’s negative sense is unclear. What is clear is that it’s not just Kelly’s family who uses the word.

Both the lack of a good etymology and the sparse and seemingly random distribution are interesting, as is the fact that Green’s Dictionary of Slang has it only as “an excl. of frustration or disgust”:

1973 [US] Eble Campus Sl. Nov. 2: gradoo […] (literally bird faeces) : Gradoo, when is he ever going to grow up.

Anybody know anything about this satisfying but mysterious word?


  1. Google Books has several more citations with definitions similar to the one you quote — stuff, junk, clutter, the dirt under your nails, food residue on your clothes, other miscellaneous forms of dirt, etc.

    And apparently, in the 1980s on an episode of St. Elsewhere, the ornery Dr. Craig sneers, “Where did you learn this bit of gradoo?”

  2. guano? grody?

  3. gardyloo?

  4. reddit comment on Pan Drippings in Cajun French

    “Gradoux” if you’re saying it “grah doo” is likely “gras doux,” meaning “sweet fat.”

    That’s my winner

  5. We also had an earlier segment about in 2010, although I don’t believe much is added to the conversation. Gradoo, February 27, 2010. Besides the citations others have found, we have quite a few messages and voicemails from listeners who know it, and we usually know where they are from. Although the French connection (ha!) seems possible, and there is definitely a Southern US trend in the reported locations of the users of gradoo/gradu, it firmly remains on my “when I have more time, I will get to the bottom of this…” list. I do like the “gardyloo” idea, which one of our listeners has also proposed, but of course, as a lexicographer, I insist on written evidence to prove a connection. At least with gardyloo we also have notion of a dirty, unwanted substance, rather than simply phonetic or orthographic similarity.

  6. Thanks for the update, and I look forward to your further discoveries!

  7. Where I from we use gradu or gradoo as something gross or junk. For example when you wake up you normally have some gunk in your eye so someone Cajun would say “you got some gradu(gradoo) in your eye.”

Speak Your Mind