LINGUIST List 6.1197

Fri Sep 1 1995

Sum: Grammar and glamour

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Richard Hudson, GLAMOUR again
  2. Karl Teeter, Grammar and glamour

Message 1: GLAMOUR again

Date: Fri, 01 Sep 1995 12:13:28 GLAMOUR again
From: Richard Hudson <>
Subject: GLAMOUR again

A couple of weeks ago I asked about the claim that GLAMOUR is related to
GRAMMAR, and in particular for comments on the /l/. Thanks to Jeff
Weber in particular for a short research-report which I hereby publish in full
below, but thanks too to John Davis, Udo Fries, Julian O'Dea and Marc
Picard. Here's a summary (including some ideas of my own).

1. Is GLAMOUR really a form of GRAMMAR?

The link between GLAMOUR and GRAMMAR is given confidently by
Partridge, Onions and Klein, who all tell much the same story; so does OED.
I repeat here Partridge's version which I included in my original message:

 "Glamo(u)r" was vogu'd [sic] by Scott for `magic, a magical charm':
 on the basis of "grammar" in the sense usually attached to obsolete
 "gram(m)arye": `magic, occult science', powers often, in medieval
 times, attributed to the learned.

As Jeff Weber points out, there is a similar magic/language ambiguity in the
word SPELL, presumably with a similar semantic explanation. Apparently
Catholics are invited every year to "renounce the glamour of evil", which at
least confirms that GLAMOUR used to have a much more negative meaning.

However, Jeff questions the standard explanation, and suggests that the real
origin of GLAMOUR is to be found in the words descended from IE *ghel
= rto shine': GLEEM, GLIMMER, GLITZ, and (surprisingly) GLEE,
GLAD, GLASS. (Well, well - etymology is full of surprises!) His message is
included in full as an appendix to this message. Even if he's right about the
link to these words, though, the link to GRAMMAR may presumably still be

2. If GLAMOUR < GRAMMAR, what about the /l/?

Precedents for /r/ > /l/ exist:

 PILGRIM < French PE'LERIN < Latin PEREGRINUS (as in
 `peregrine falcon', apparently!).
 `COLONEL is pronounced like KERNEL because there used to be an
 alternate form CORONEL which was transmitted from Spanish via
 French (which got rid of it altogether).' [Marc Picard]

Both are examples of dissimilation triggered by a following /r/, which could
also have affected GRAMMAR in the old days when both /r/'s were still
pronounced (as they still are, of course, in many places). As a linguist
interested in theory I don't understand the status of `dissimilation' - is it a
rule, or a production process, or what? - but it could have been responsible
for converting GRAMMAR into GLAMOUR, and presumably the difference
between -AR and -OUR can be explained somehow. If dissimilation is a
random process, then maybe we don't need an explanation for why (unlike
the other two examples quoted) it only applied to GRAMMAR in one of its

3. If GLAMOUR < GLIMMER etc, what about the -AMOUR?

If Jeff is right about the ultimate link to IE *ghel, the GL- is no problem -
but the rest of the word is! To me, the most obvious answer is that
GLAsOUR is a *blend*, i.e. a neologism, and not a `corruption' of any
single word. GL(IMMER etc) + GRAMMAR > GLAMOUR? Maybe it's a
rather special kind of blend in that the first bit is contributed by a whole
family of words (all the gl-words to do with light or high feelings) rather
th n just a single one. I don't know whether there are precedents, but I bet
there are.

Other examples of blends from Laurie Bauer's `English Word-Formation'
more. GLAMOUR fits easily into this company.

For good measure, Jeff throws in two other related words: GLANCE and
GLOMER, meaning `collection'. According to Partridge GLANCE <
French GLACIER, `slip' < Latin GLACIARE, `freeze'; and GLOMER <
Latin (cf agglommeration, conglommeration). Could these have been extra
sources of inspiration for whoever invented GLAMOUR? And to complicate
the story still further, Julian O'Dea mentions `GRIMOIRE (a word much
used in horror novels, referring to an old magical text)'. Why not throw that
onto the heap as well?
!Appendix: Message from Jeff Weber

I spent some time trying to get a handle. If I am on the right track,
'glamour' is not a corruption of 'grammar.

A little closer look leads me to see 'glamour' < IE *ghel = to shine, and
developing through archaic English. A wide range of cognates trace to this
etymon. They include among themselves the set [glee, gleem, glitz, glass,
glad, glimmer, etc.] -- and the variation in the vowels of 'glee/glad' seems
to be analogous with 'gleem/glam(our)'. The sense 'deception of the sight'
adverts to magic. Squinting of the eyes is seen in cognates, other words like
'glance' seem related.
 Magic was associated with 'grammar' on a separate Latin root. 'Systematic
writings' were called grammars. And there was a play on words when
'glamour/grammar was a collection of 'spells' in the book. And 'glomer(y)
a hhird root, Latin in origin, 'to gather together'.

The OED's 'glamour' as a corruptionof 'grammar' is dubious.

OED 'Gramarye' -- as occult learning seems to be merely connected because
'spells' were contained in 'grammars' (i.e., collected written systematic
thought on something, as witchcraft ). This is indicated (1870): "All
learning fell under suspicion, till at length the very grammar itself... gave
to English the word gramary"

OED 'Glomer' < Latin 'to gather together' and perhaps at times in some
dialects an intentional pun, confounded with 'grammar', as 'a master of Latin

OED 'Glamour' appears connected with magic, but not through
but in the same way that "her charms/glamour cast a magic spell" -- 'charm'
had at one time much more the sense of sorcery (as in Shakespeare) about it
than today, now the sense of 'charm' is connected with magic only when
provided by context. In Scotland 'glamour' was called the _deceptio visus_
- a spell cast over the eyes. The connection with sight is found in the IE
root *ghel (= to shine), and squinting the eyes in confusion in found in
cognate words. Intended deception is part of 'glamour' -- the magic, of
making something appear to the sight what it is not. 'Charm' does not have
the darker sense of deception, nr the connection with sight; a related idea
is found in ME 'pretty', with trickery (not as strong as deception) the core
idea (survives in 'prat-fall' = trick fall).

1721 When devils, wizards or jugglers deceive the sight they are said to cast
glamour [the sight aspect of 'glamour' is forefronted].

1789 Burns said "Ye gipsy-gang that deal in glamor, And you deep read in
hell's black grammar, Warlocks and witches. [Burns RHYMES a play on
words and

1859 That maiden in the tale, Whom,Gwydion made by glamour out of
[Unless I see a wider context, I have to conclude that the 'glamour' here is
not the 'glamour' of magically deceiving the eyes, but from Latin, and an
apparent alternate spelling of 'glom-', as 'agglomeration'. perhaps another
play on words.
Prof Richard Hudson Tel: +44 171 387 7050 ext 3152
Dept. of Phonetics and Linguistics Tel: +44 171 380 7172
 Fax: +44 171 383 4108
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Grammar and glamour

Date: Wed, 30 Aug 1995 15:57:19 Grammar and glamour
From: Karl Teeter <>
Subject: Grammar and glamour

Let's face it, guys, grammar is glamorous, hence the dissimilatively
related pair (forgive my American spelling). Yours, KVT
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue