or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, February 09, 2007

Eminence Grise

Have I mentioned that when watching television, we keep the closed captioning on at all times? It makes it easy to catch things that you didn't quite hear properly, and when you're used to it, it's completely unobtrusive--you just grab a peek at the words when you need them.

We watch movies with the subtitles on, too, even English-language movies. I find myself wishing they had them in movie theatres.

Tonight we were watching How Clean Is Your House?, an intermittently hilarious show featuring two campy British ladies upbraiding filthy housekeepers and then teaching them how to clean. The show outdoes itself in descriptive terms for the hovels it invades, and today one of the words was "grisly". Unfortunately, the caption said "grizzly".

Not interchangeable. Two different words!

"Grisly" comes from German "grausen", "to shudder with fear": a grisly sight isn't necessarily one that's bloody (the dominant usage today, I think), but rather one that horrifies you.

"Grizzled" is a word meaning "partly grey-haired", a salt-and-pepper look; it comes from the French "gris", "grey", and "grizzly" is another form of "grizzled", with the same meaning. How's that for straightforward? (It's also related to "grisaille", a painting technique using shades of grey to represent or imitate bas-relief.)

The grizzly bear isn't grey-streaked; it's brown or fulvous. (Isn't that a great word? It's from the Latin and means "brownish yellow".) The grizzly bear's name has nothing directly to do with "grizzled", but instead comes from the carnage it wreaks. However, "grizzly" has, it must be admitted, shown up on occasion in the past as an alternative spelling of "grisly". They're still not interchangeable. Not while I'm around. Someone has to keep up standards.

While I'm at it, "gristly" is unrelated to either of these words: it's from an old Germanic word meaning "cartilage".


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