Word Nerd: A Gristly Scene

Columns Education Evergreen Geek Culture Word Nerd


Time for another round of Word Nerd, the online feature that helps you learn to choose just the right word for every occasion. Today we’re going to look at three words that sound almost the same but have completely different origins and meanings.

Grisly: gruesome, horrible, grotesque.
Grizzly: A kind of bear, or gray-colored or gray-haired.
Gristly: containing a lot of gristle (cartilage), as with an inedible piece of meat.

grizzlyGrisly originates before 1150 from the Old English grisl?c meaning horrible.
Grizzly is fairly recent, turning up around 1590, derived from grizzle, a word from around 1350 that means gray. It comes from the Middle English word grisel.
Gristly is from around 1400, a Middle English variation of gristle, which goes back to before 900, from the Middle Low German gristal, meaning cartilage.

If you say “this steak is grisly,” you may be Hannibal Lector.
If you talk about a gristly bear, you’re saying that your bear meat is chewy and tough.

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