Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The gristly, grisly Grizzly

I recently had cause to use the word "grisly" here. Indeed I featured it prominently and so thought it would be wise to check in on its spelling and to make sure I had the right word as I did. I did have the word and its spelling worked out properly, but in checking up on the word I could see where my slight frisson of insecurity came from. Two other words nestle up intimately to "grisly". Their spellings, meanings, and pronunciations are distinct from each other, and yet in each of those categories they are closely related.




Without a touch of proper enunciation each word will sound the same as the other. "Grisly" is with a simple soft "S". One has to pop a touch of "T" into "Gristly". And with "Grizzly", a small, friendly amount of buzz is required. The spelling too places them near to identical while leaving them distinct; squeeze a quiet "T" in for one, then swap the "ST" for a couple of "Z's" and it's all sorted. But what I find most entertaining is that this same similarity, like unto close siblings, carries into the meanings of the words. Everything about each of them evokes the feelings of the other words. A grizzly, being a large, and occasionally ferocious bear, causes our minds to leap to thoughts of grisly attacks, so much so that we wonder if somehow the origin of one word comes from the other. My cursory examination shows no evidence of it. And once we have our grisly tableau, whether it be the grizzly in triumph over the grisly scene, or some backwoods survivor triumphing bloodily over the grizzly, someone is bound to set down to a grisly meal that it is hard not to imagine will be very, very... gristly. That's gonna be some tough meat no matter how it played out.

And so I leave you with my lurid account:

Starving to death, we came upon the horrid bear slaughter. It saved our lives. For the grisly scene became our lifesaving meal of gristly grizzly.

There are many, many prettier words, but it's still nice to see three getting along so well together.

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