Printable Version
Pronunciation: gru-sêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Grisly, ghastly, nauseatingly repugnant.

Notes: English has a lot of words for "stupid person" (jerk, blockhead, klutz, etc.) and for "terrible" (terrible, horrible, grisly, ghastly, gruesome, etc.) There are also a lot of derogatory terms for women. Why these three concepts deserve such attention is anyone's guess. The adverb for today's word is gruesomely and the noun, gruesomeness.

In Play: Gruesome means "horrible" in a nauseatingly repulsive way: "I drove past a fatal car accident on the way to work this morning, and the mangled bodies were a gruesome sight." However, today's Good Word is most often used hyperbolically: "Did you hear what happened when Smedley went in to ask for a raise? It was gruesome!"

Word History: Gruesome probably comes from Scottish grue "to shudder from horror", made popular by Robert Louis Stevenson. Middle English did have gruen, a word that does not appear in the written records of Old English, leaving the question of whether it was present in the spoken language moot. The common wisdom is that the word may have been borrowed by Middle English from Middle Dutch grusaem "horrible" or Middle High German gruwesam, Modern German grausam "horrible, fierce, cruel". Danish grusom "cruel" from grue "to dread" is clearly related. How it came to be in the Germanic languages no one seems to know. No trace of it can be found in other Indo-European languages. (The gruesome truth is, Robert Eichberg suggested this word just past last Halloween. We need to thank him for the suggestion and for his patience.)

Dr. Goodword,

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