• grovel •
Pronunciation: grah-vêl, grê-vêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitie (No objects)
Meaning: 1. To lie, crawl or creep in a prostrate manner. 2. To behave subserviently, humiliatingly, in a servile, obsequious manner.
Notes: Look out for the spelling of this word and where you are when you spell it. In the UK, when suffixes are added, the L is doubled: grovelled, grovelling. Unlike the UK spelling, in the US we double the L only if the syllable in which it occurs is accented: expelled, expelling but groveled and groveling. If you really must use the personal noun, it is, as we might expect, groveler in the US and groveller in Jolly Old.
In Play: The basic sense of today's word is "to crawl": "When Natalie Cladd's beads broke, she spent 20 minutes groveling on her hands and knees retrieving them." However, the image of someone metaphorically "crawling" in respect before a powerful person has taken over its meaning: "June McBride made Phil Anders grovel before she accepted his proposal of marriage."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a Shakespearean back-formation from archaic groveling "on the face, prostrate". It was used in Middle English as an adjective and as an adverb derived from gruffe, a borrowing from Old Norse grufe "prone" + an obsolete adverbial suffix -ling. Shakespeare apparently took the ing at the end of the adverb as a present participle ending and, removing it, created a new verb. -Ling, however, went on to become the -long in such words as headlong, lifelong, and agelong. The Old Norse word is found in liggja a grufu "lie face-down," literally "lie in proneness." Old Norse also had grufla "to grovel," grufa "to grovel, cower, crouch down."