June 29, 2007


Lynne Murphy wrote to point out a curious choice by Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing yesterday ("Cereal Straws -- powdered sugar-cereal drinking straws", 6/28/2007):

Kellogg's Cereal Straws are straws lined with powdered sugar-cereal dust that kids can drink milk through. It makes the milk taste like the sludge left at the bottom of a cereal bowl. We feed kids gross things, but this reaches new levels of grotitude.

Lynne's comment:

I liked the 'grotitude' coinage (at least as far as I can tell it's a coinage--the google hits for it seem all to be misspellings of 'gratitude').
But I was interested in the first 't' here. Not being very phonologically sophisticated myself, I wondered: is this indicative of the coiner's sensitivity to obscure latinate-English patterns of allomorphy, or is this just a blend with 'attitude'?

I had a look for 'grossitude', and found the 554 hits, including a claim of coinage.

In the case of gross/grotitude, I suspect that the s/t association is mediated by the word grotty, which the OED glosses as "Unpleasant, dirty, nasty, ugly, etc.: a general term of disapproval", suggesting that the etymology is a shortened form of grotesque.

Grotty (rhymes with "snotty") is a word that I can recall from my childhood, without any specific episodic associations. I always thought of it as a slightly upscale variant of grody (rhymes with "Jody"), and I never realized that either word had any relationship to "grotesque". In fact, if you'd asked me, I think I would have said grody was obviously related (somehow) to gross. But the OED sez that grody is "U.S. slang", with the etymological note

[In early use groaty, repr. phonetic respelling of GROT(ESQUE a. + -Y. The shift of t to d is accounted for by the phonetic equivalence of intervocalic t and d in U.S. English. Cf. GROTTY a.]

(The reference to "the phonetic equivalence of intervocalic t and d in U.S. English" is imprecise at best -- it's only non-pre-stress /t/ that is a candidate for flapping and voicing. We colonials might pronounce latter and ladder just the same way, but we're not tempted to turn "a tail" into "a dale" or attack into adac.)

The gloss for grody is

Disgusting, revolting, ‘gross’; dirty, unhygienic, squalid; unattractive, slovenly, sloppy. Freq. in phr. grody to the max, unspeakably awful, ‘the pits’.

The OED's entry for grotty has "Hence grottiness n.", with the citations

1984 Financial Times 6 Oct. 15/7 The grottiness of the room in which their under-graduate son or daughter is proposing to spend the next eight months or so.
1988 N.Y. Times 8 Mar. C13/4 ‘Why do you write so much of grottiness?’ asked a radio interviewer of a current poet.

I'm not sure whether the first syllable of grotitude is supposed to rhyme with rot or with rote, but either way, I'll guess that the resonance with grotty/grody was behind the switch from /s/.

As for the -tude part, it's an old hacker thing, I think. The 1993 edition of the Jargon File observes:

Hackers enjoy overgeneralization on the grammatical level as well. Many hackers love to take various words and add the wrong endings to them to make nouns and verbs, often by extending a standard rule to nonuniform cases (or vice versa). For example, because

porous => porosity
generous => generosity

hackers happily generalize:

mysterious => mysteriosity
ferrous => ferrosity
obvious => obviosity
dubious => dubiosity

Another class of common construction uses the suffix `-itude' to abstract a quality from just about any adjective or noun. This is used especially in cases where mainstream English would perform the same abstraction through `-iness' or `-ingness'. Thus:

win =>winnitude (a common exclamation)
loss =>lossitude
cruft =>cruftitude
lame =>lameitude

Other example from the same source include disgustitude, wedgitude, crockitude, and hackitude.

Like a lot of hackerisms, this one has spread into the mainstream; but I bet that Cory got it from the source.

[And of course, as several people have reminded me, Mark Peters has a whole blog devoted to Wordlustitude. A recent entry deals with supergeniusitude, and he's also covered aggro-goofitude, asscrackitude, ballitude, ball-suckitude, befuckitude, buttmunchitude, buttockitude, cavemanitude, cluster-fuckitude, cohortitude, crackpotitude, crack-whoritude, and many more.]

[Update #2 -- Mr. Verb presents a brief on behalf of latinate derivational morphology, in "More on -t- ~ -ss- alternations".]

[Update #3 -- Joe Stynes writes:

"Grotty", as well as the abstract noun "grottiness", also has the back-formed mass noun "grot", for any substance imbued with grottiness: goo, gunk, muck, sludge, filth. Probably relatedly, Grot was also the company founded by Leonard Rossiter in "The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin" for the manufacture and sale of useless rubbishy products.

And Dan Everett adds:

As far as I know grotty really began to catch on after a Hard Day's Night when a man was showing George Harrison new 'fads' in clothing and George said 'They're right grotty'.


[Martyn Cornell corrects Dan Everett's field notes:

Considering it's not my dialect, I knew immediately that Dan Everett's transcript of the dialogue from A Hard Day's Night was wrong - George Harrison, as a Liverpudlian, would never describe something as "right grotty", "right" used in that way is Lancashire/Yorkshire, not Merseyside (and it would be pronounced "reet" ...). A quick Google reveals that the actual exchange was:

Simon Marshall: You'll really dig them. They're fab and all the other pimply hyperboles.
George: I wouldn't be seen dead in them. They're dead grotty.
Simon Marshall: Grotty?
George: Yeah, grotesque.
Simon Marshall: Make a note of that word and give it to Susan. (Susan being the "trendy teenager" on Marshall's TV programme ...)

Funny how things get put in natural classes like "slang English intensifier" so that right is mis-remembered for dead.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 29, 2007 07:42 AM