Fun_People Archive
21 Feb
The etymology of grotty

Date: Tue, 21 Feb 95 20:34:28 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: The etymology of grotty

Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: "Kurt J. Lidl" <>
Forwarded-by: (David J. MacKenzie)
From: (saki)

> Not a hidden message question, but watching "You Can't Do That"
> last weekend, I couldn't help wondering how slang for grotesque
> came to be pronounced "grotty" (with a short "o"), as in George's
> famed shirt scene. 

I'm pleased to recommend to you the Oxford English Dictionary, Second
Edition (1989), a useful source for settling contentions of this sort.  The
OED (which exists in numerous volumes) traces the first attested appearance
of a word based on written sources, attempting to search books, pamphlets,
newspapers and other documents for the first use of the term.  It thus is
best used in instances where historical precedence must be determined.

If you look at the entry for "grotty", you'll find that the first attested
use is *indeed* "A Hard Day's Night", script by Alun Owen; the OED even
quotes the relevant bit from the Shirt Scene. There are scattered other uses
of the term from 1964 to 1970, when it seems to die out for a time.  Over
the past four or five years (which would leave it out of the range of the
Second Edition), I believe "grotty" has seen a resurgence in British slang,
which may account for your impression that it's a general part of the
language. When the Third Edition is published, I'm sure this will be
recorded as well.

It appears that Owen did, in fact, invent a real word, based on "grotesque"
(which is attested for many centuries before "grotty"), and this may be the
Beatles' only entry in the OED...maybe that's *better* than a Knighthood.

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []