Printable Version
Pronunciation: grb Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. (Western US Slang) Plain food, 'eats', 'vittles' (= victuals). 2. The thick white larva of some insects that spends its life digging through the soil.

Notes: We don't actually advocate using today's word in its first meaning. It is a slang word originating in Britain in the first half of the 17th century—not the speech of the American cowboy. The cowboy is who Americans most closely associate it with. On a cattle drive, grub was simple but hot, served up around the chuck wagon, which carried the provisions for the drive. The chuck wagon's name probably didn't come from the fact that you were apt to 'chuck up' the food it provided, or because you were likely to get a chuck steak there, but more likely because it was where biscuits, called "chuck" on board ships of the time, were prepared.

In Play: Should you ever play cowboy, you wouldn't want to use words like cuisine, comestibles, or even food. For that situation, put this word to work, "That was some grub you rustled up for us tonight, Cookie; where did you dig it up?" Why grub has to be 'rustled up' is anyone's guess; that is just the way it was on the prairie. A grub stake? you ask. That was a Gold Rush term: the money a miner needed for grub until he struck gold. It came with the understanding that the giver would share in the profits from any gold discovered.

Word History: Speaking of grub, some of the best is the cured salmon known as gravlax, from Swedish grava "to bury" + lax "lox", named for the original process of curing it in the ground. The same root that produced grava, turned up in Old English grybban "to dig", which ultimately became grub. Because pigs and other animals usually grub for food, the word grub also became cowboy slang meaning "food". (There also may have been little difference between what the animals dug up and what the chuck wagon provided.) In Middle Dutch the same root emerged as groeve "ditch," which was borrowed by English as groove. The Old English word for "ditch" was graef, which today is grave. (We don't know where David Ryan of Sweet Valley, Pennsylvania, dug up today's terms of the cowboy argot, but we hope he keeps grubbing for more.)

Dr. Goodword,

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