August 01, 2004

A long sort of grasping grope

I got curious about graunch, because I saw it used in a comment on a commentary on one of our posts. I don't think I've ever come across this word before, which is not surprising since all its forms (graunch, graunches, graunched, graunching) total 1573 whG, or about 367 whG/bp, or roughly one form of graunch in every 3 billion words of web-accessible text. Also, it seems to be a British-commonwealth thing, with associations with New Zealand, the R.A.F., and South Africa.

Graunch seems to have started as an onomatopoeic word for the sound made by a sort of medium-length grinding contact, along with some associative blending of words like grope, ground, grind, grate, crunch, crash, crush, punch, launch, raunch, etc.. People make this kind of word up all the time, and the use that started me off (wait, I'll get to it!) may be have been this kind of nonce formation. Or maybe not.

The OED has graunch as a dial. and N.Z. verb, glossed

intrans. To make a crunching or grinding sound; trans., to cause to make such a sound; hence, to damage (a mechanism of some kind). Also vbl. n.; graunchy a., difficult, testing.

with citations from 1881:

1881 A. B. EVANS Leics. Words 163 Graunch, var. of ‘crunch’ and ‘scrunch’, to crush or grind with a noise; crash. ‘I'm sure it freezes, for I heard the ice graunching under the wheels of the carriage.’
1954 Dominion (Wellington, N.Z.) 1 July, As far as I know ‘to graunch’ means to damage an engine, instrument, machine, etc., by using wrong tools and/or repair methods, and a ‘graunch-artist’ is ‘a person who does that’. Ibid. 9 July, The first time I heard the word [graunch] was some time in '39 or '40, and it was used by an English airman. To the best of my knowledge it originated in the R.A.F. and was pronounced ‘garraunch’ to reproduce the sound of a plane as it crashed and slid... Later it became a one-syllable word and refers to any metal torn or damaged by force.
1957 Evening Post (Wellington) 17 Apr. 8 (headline) Graunch! -- Bang goes more than the door.
1959 D. BEATY Cone of Silence xxviii. 288 ‘Have you tried this new take-off technique?’ ‘Yes sir..we're in for a hell of a graunching.’
1964 Observer (Colour Suppl.) 11 Oct. 42/1 Many people ‘graunch’ their gears.
1965 N.Z. Listener 27 Aug. 9/1 John Pascoe himself knew that editing an encyclopaedia would be a lengthy project. ‘When I started I knew it was a graunchy job. But then I've always liked long graunchy jobs. It's tied in with my youthful experiences of long distance running... I rather like long, slow patient plodding.’
1968 Dominion Sunday Times (Wellington) 10 Apr. 2/3 They said they could hear the ship ‘graunching’ on the rock.

UrbanDictionary gives three (user-supplied) definitions, all of a verbal form: "To spoil an object by carelessness or ignorance or both"; "to damage something by using excessive force, often with the use of an incongruos [sic] implement"; "To make to fit by the use of excessive force."

This page (among others) cites a South African slang usage:

Graunch: Make out - "during the film, my boyfriend and I graunched in the back row" - during the movie we french kissed, rubbed, etc....

This meaning apparently comes from the kind of forceful grinding contact imagined to result in a graunching sound. It's possible, of course, that the sexual sense preceded the mechanical one -- there are lots of explicitly sexual metaphors in mechanics' jargon, both formal and informal.

Extending the word in another direction, this page cites an application of the "fit by extended forceful wiggling" meaning to software rather than hardware:

In the technical lingo, connecting programs in this way is often called systems integration. But Brian Randell, a computer scientist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, suggests that "there is a better word than integration, from old R.A.F. slang: namely, 'to graunch,' which means 'to make to fit by the use of excessive force.' "

But these lexical citations are all verbs. I found a couple of bits of apparently nominal lexicography for graunch: this glossary says that "Graunch is computer slang for a big mistake", and The Dictionary of Antarctic Slang says that Graunch is "The result of hamfistedness".

On the web, nominal uses of graunch forms seem to outnumber verbal ones. Checking 30 of Google's 120 instances of "graunches" and 30 of the 654 instance of "graunch" yielded about 60% noun uses (and about the same proportion for each form separately as well).

Some of the nouns describe sounds:

(link) Check for rumble from the main bearing - spin the platter without the drive belt in place, getting your ear close to the deck to listen for any graunches.
(link) I found that the Cedar de-noising system couldn't cope with some of the worst graunches so I redrew some of the waveforms in ProTools and sat back astonished.
(link) Playing both electric and acoustic guitars (not in the same song of course!), her extraordinary voice (off to the rough edge of deep with some incredible, soul-tearing graunches and heartmelting vibrato a little bit like Macy Gray's) imprinted the rapt audience with some equally extraordinary songs...

while others describe mechanical events associated with such sounds:

(link) Little 'graunches' (such as landing a bit too heavily after a jump) cause a hairline crack to creep along the tubular steel framework of the car. Mega graunches cause 'impact craters' (little holes).
(link) Gear changing takes practice and despite a lot of "graunches and grinds" till we got the hang of shifting, recent inspection of the transmission shows all teeth to be present and correct.
(link) Particular problems of Tauri in general include warped front brake rotors, steering
graunches, splotchy paint, water leaks around the trunk, and rust.

still others describe the results of such events:

(link) The big clues that a Range Rover has been exposed to more than its fair share of off-road work include scuffs, scraps and graunches in the floorpan and chassis rails.
(link) 9:54pm, nah, we're ready to roll, the graunch on the lower front is where we collapsed the ramp at the other end of the bridge.

There are some "integration" or force-fitting nouns:

(link) I am curious to see if the haskell integration is a good fit or a graunch (square peg into a round hole).

and some "long tough grind" ones:

(link) John had suggested that the team would take about 3 hours to get to the dig. I was thus mentally prepared for a long slow graunch down Southern Stream Passage.
(link) The long trek to Pen-y-ghent (2,273ft) was a graunch for some and the general feeling was that if the Dales National Park could put it in a wheelbarrow and place it nearer to the other two, they would be performing a great service.

as well as some quite unexpected ones:

(link) During the intervening years I had on-going mild to moderate symptoms - periods of diarrhea, abdominal pain in varying degrees - manageable, and I continued to put them down to stress because they had found nothing wrong in 1992. I just thought of them as "my graunches".
(link) Composite of Primitive Graunch, Ovis aries vignei; introgression since 1970 from Merino Precoce (France), Suffolk (United Kingdom), German Merino (Germany)

The verbal uses are generally similar, spanning a range from noises

(link) Slowly the drive head graunches and whirrs its way across the disk marking and getting data off the bad sectors.
(link) The rubber graunches and squeaks as it slithers along the course, hitting corners and bouncing to the next.
(link) When stopping the brakes may graunch, squeak and in some cases whistle.
(link) Yes, bumps will cause some violent tugging at the wheel, and yes, it graunches horribly while reversing at slow speed, but the upside is a whole new chapter written into the laws of physics.

to events, noisy or otherwise

(link) Dust and dirt get in and the mast graunches against the housing, wearing it out.
(link) Try not to show irritation if your new driver stalls the car, or graunches the gears.
(link) Even long time Alfa owners sometimes graunch a second gear shift.
(link) But just when you think they've lost their way and must be storyboarding The Black Cauldron II right now, the ever-reliable Disney Machine graunches into gear.

and the (negative) results of such events:

(link) I soon discovered that one has to have the rear doors on the semitrad cockpit fixed open or latched shut, otherwise you graunch your knuckles on them as the tiller only just clears them.
(link) The mail software didn't request transparent mode, and thus couldn't be
used to graunch someone's terminal.
(link) You get what you pay for in Sockets, a bad 12 point can graunch a bolt head faster than you can say "i graunched all the bolt heads!!"
(link) I graunch my R knee getting out of the car every now and then and not using it is the only quick healing you can do.

This page has an extended discussion of what seems to be an example of the S.A. sexual slang, though it has something to do with the (British) Dr. Who show, and takes place (or at least is posted) in New Zealand:

Katy: Yes, and Nick always got first prize as being the warmest, cuddliest person but you have got to be careful because he graunches.

Nick: Graunches?

Katy: You remember that?

Nick: I remember the word graunch very well.

Katy: It was scripted. We got a script and it said, well it said one thing I can't say here which was very funny, but you're all much too young. It was very funny but I'm not going to do that - that was with the Doctor! But it also said: "Brig enters and graunched Jo."

Nick: Which story was that?

Katy: Don't ask me, I can't remember. I remember the graunch, though.

Nick: Yes, I remember, but why would I graunch you?

Katy: Thanks a lot!

Nick: Not why would I, Nick, graunch Katy, but why would the Brig graunch Miss Grant?

Katy: Well, I think he must have quite liked Miss Grant.

Nick: Yes, graunch, yes, I remember that word. It's kind of close to a grope.

Katy: It's the nearest the Brig ever got!

Nick: I think it's an extension of a grope.

Katy: Yes, it's a long sort of grasping grope. (She is given a cup of Coke) Oh, how sweet!

OK, now we get to the example that I started with. It's a comment by "artela" (who is from Wales) to a post on a LiveJournal site belonging to "murkee" (perhaps Car Talk's pollster Paul?):

Amusing, yes... but the grammar really graunches!

This is all in reference to Eric Bakovic's recent (Language Log) discussion of Jon Stewart's remark on Larry King Live:

Well, just purely for the knowledge of geography. It's just fascinating to learn about these countries. ... I didn't know Kabul was the capital of Afghanistan until we started bombing it. ... If we would haven't gone to war there, I certainly wouldn't have known that.

Murkee apparently didn't realize that Stewart was being ironic, and so he is shocked that Eric would carry on about the grammar rather than being outraged that someone would propose going to war in order to learn geography. Artela's rejoinder, in context, seems to mean that "the grammar really grates", in the sense of setting her teeth on edge.

I haven't seen this use of graunch elsewhere, but it's reasonable enough to take the idiom "X grates (on me)" meaning "X annoys me", and substitute a more expressive term for "grate". When I first read the comment, graunch struck me as a substitute for the verb of another idiom class, e.g. "X bites" -- with graunch maybe a blend of gnaw, growl, crunch and raunch, or just imitative word for a large growling bite. But I now think that's less likely than the grate-substitution story.

I guess what strikes me about this whole business is how such a rare word manages to maintain a coherent pattern of use among English speakers across the world (if we ignore the sheep :-)). There are all sorts of extensions -- noise/event/result/intent, mechanical contact vs. sexual contact -- but extensions like that are part of the history of every word.

And by the way, when I search for "graunch", Helpful Google asks me:

Did you mean to search for: france  


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 1, 2004 02:36 PM