Printable Version
Pronunciation: gru-ê-ling Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Extraordinarily demanding and exhausting, 'punishing'.

Notes: Today's word seems to be an isolate, a lexical orphan without any relatives. However, it is an old participle of the verb gruel "to punish" (see Word History). If you live in the UK or other English-speaking region that uses British spelling rules, you will probably want to double the L in this word: gruelling. One L is sufficient in the US.

In Play: This common adjective refers to an exhaustion that is like punishment: "Constance Noring had a grueling day at the office: the boss kept looking over her shoulder all day." It is a good vocabulary item for those who consider any type of work punishment: "I lead a grueling life: clean up my room, clear the table, take out the garbage—one grueling task after another!" Sounds like a teenager, doesn't it?

Word History: Today's Good Word started out as a noun referring to a thin, runny oatmeal served to the ailing and infirm. It was also served in prisons to criminals and from this association it gathered a metaphorical sense of "punishment". Throughout the 19th century, "get your gruel" meant to get your just deserts (not desserts). By 1891 the noun gruel was being used alone as a verb meaning "to punish". Gruel was borrowed in 1199 from the French word with the same spelling. French borrowed it from an Old Germanic word grut "coarse meal, malt", a derivative of an even older word meaning "grain". From grain to punishment is a long semantic trail for a word to traverse.

Dr. Goodword,

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