Groggy. When we claim it, we usually mean that we’re unsteady, weak, often from being tired. I’ve heard it used in a way that indicated some brain fog too, where you’re stumbling around, groping for the light switch or the cup of coffee, am I right? And that’s a use (the “weak, unsteady” definition, specifically) that dates from about 1832 and was first used of boxers in the ring when they’d taken a few too many punches.

But the history of the word is even more interesting than that. It starts with a cloak. Yep, a cloak of coarse texture, which the French called gros grain (literally “coarse texture”) was, in the 1700s, called a grogram. Now, this type of cloak was worn by the famous British admiral, Edward Vernon, who led troops in the Caribbean in that same time period. His men nicknamed him Old Grog because of his cloak. Well, in August of 1740, this admiral did something no one had ever dared to do before–he ordered his men’s rum ration (a veritable institution in the British Navy) to be cut with water.

Well, the men called the diluted rum grog after the man who committed such a daring act. And the name stuck. Grog was a common drink in the 1700s, though eventually the “diluted” part fell away, and it was used for any strong alcoholic drink (think liquor rather than beer). Taverns came to be called grog shops, even!

You can see where this is going. Groggy, then, was a word for “stumbling drunk.” Hence, later, just the “stumbling” bit.

As an interesting note, that same Admiral Vernon is the namesake for Mount Vernon, the Washington family estate in Virginia. George Washington’s elder brother served under Vernon in the Caribbean and respected him so much that he renamed the family lands in his honor. Let’s be glad he went with his real name and didn’t call the place Mount Grog, eh? 😉

Word Nerds Unite!

Read More Word of the Week Posts

Print Friendly, PDF & Email