Small Object of desire #20 – Etymology

Grotesque. This is the one that simply sits on your building going ‘grrrr’ to ward off bad, bad things in the same way you would ward off vampires with garlic or a crucifix…

…and Gargoyle. This is the one that you use to serve bad, bad things tea when they have breached your defences.

Now you know. 

I may not look like a typical one but behind this glamorous and urbane exterior beats the heart of a bona fide geek. And I’m kinda proud of it. I’m a geek for all things etymological, among other things. In fact anything to do with where language comes from and where it’s going gets my pulse racing. Is that sad? Well, it’s certainly true. 

So when I discovered the difference between a gargoyle and grotesque the other day, I was beside myself with…not quite glee but I could certainly feel the old grey matter shifting in its axis. 

I’m not sure exactly when I can casually drop these words into conversation but that’s not the point is it? Just knowing gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I could probably crowbar them into a poem one of these days!

Grotesque n. The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as “Grotto”, meaning a small cave or hollow.In art, performance, and literature, grotesque may refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity. More specifically, the grotesque forms on Gothic buildings, when not used as drain-spouts, should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques, or chimeras. Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English) grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks.

Gargoyle nA gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. Preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls is important because running water erodes the mortar between the stone blocks. Architects often used multiple gargoyles on buildings to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize the potential damage from a rainstorm. It comes from the French word ‘gargouille’ which means throat. Same root for the English words gargle and gurgle. Onomatopoeic, eh? I like that kind of thing. 


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