LINGUIST List 6.1197

Fri Sep 1 1995

Sum: Grammar and glamour

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  • Richard Hudson, GLAMOUR again
  • 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 relevant.

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

    Precedents for /r/ > /l/ exist:

    PILGRIM < French PE'LERIN < Latin PEREGRINUS (as in `peregrine falcon', apparently!). MARBLE < Latin MARMOR `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 meanings.

    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' (234-7) are: SLITHY < LITHE + SLIMY; CHUNNEL < CHANNEL + TUNNEL; GUESTIMATE < GUESS + ESTIMATE - and many many 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) was 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 gloter'.

    OED 'Glamour' appears connected with magic, but not through glomer/grammer, 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 ideas]

    1859 That maiden in the tale, Whom,Gwydion made by glamour out of flowers. [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 E-mail: Dept. of Phonetics and Linguistics Tel: +44 171 380 7172 Fax: +44 171 383 4108 UCL Gower Street London WC1E 6BT UK

    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