What's the story with "gross?"


Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/26/whats-the-story-with-gross.html




Small point; Umberto Eco may have precedence - he wrote The Search for the Perfect Language, which is a history and taxonomy of such attempts. But he didn’t fix on “gross”. Possibly because it was originally in Italian.


I remember my first encounter with the word in its latest context was reading Julie Andrews (Edwards)’ fantasy novel The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (1974). The word was used by one of the characters, and it was a little puzzling to me.
It’s interesting to think how the word was being used for at least a few years in Hollywood and San Fernando Valley before it became national. I would think Frank Zappa had more to do with its spread than Julie Andrews, though.


I would have bet on a contraction of "grotesque.


That would be “grotty.”


Given where I normally see the word (gross/net terms), I would guess it comes from (or from the same place as) the French "gros"or big. The cartoon posted above shows it being used as a modifier/enhancement to the adjective “vulgar”. Substitute “big” and it still works. In time, the main adjective got dropped, with the “disgusting” inference applied to “gross” itself, except in situations where it is still explicitly about measurement in which case the “large” meaning still applies.


More likely German, which is actually spelt “gross” and pronounced like it.

Edit - I have deleted a misremembered story which has led to some confusion below. I must stop recounting these boring old anecdotes and getting them wrong.


“Grody to the max.”


Exactly who I was imagining!


I watched the video for 144 seconds, then got grossed out.



Having watched that amount of time is certainly gross.


I suspect you’re correct about the German origin of gross. It’s been in use in the Germanic languages for centuries, and there is this thing called Anglo-Saxon that is considered to be the mother of English. Ascribing origins to words seems to me to be influenced by cultural bias.

Of course, there are a ton of derivatives in English–grocery being the most notable, referring to “the whole goods”–a grocer would take a whole (gross) bag of wheat, for example, and portion it out to sell it.


Gross me green.


When I say the word around my (pedantic) uncle, he replies “144?”


For that he has earned the Pedant Pendant. :medal_military:


So in the 70s, “grossed out” meant “bored” or “tired.” Citation, please?
I was a teenager in that burnt orange and avocado green decade, and I never heard it used that way. It always meant “disgusted” or “sickened.” It was used as a noun, too: “Pink Flamingos was a total gross-out, man.”


To make things even more complexing, “grob” really does mean “coarse”, and “groß” is now just spelled “gross”. Except when I turn on autocorrect, which doesn’t grok that the new rules say avoid the ß ligature at the end of words.

Also kann etwas gleichzeitig grob und groß sein.


Like baker’s dozen, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone use gross as 144 of something.