Thursday, January 28, 2016

Language of Confusion: -Grate

Guess what? This is my thousandth post. Can you believe it? How appropriate that it’s an etymology post. Number 1000 should be something I can’t shut up about.

I’ve always thought the word grate was weird. It’s something used for cooking. And yet we have grateful and ingrate. What’s up with that?

Grate is both a noun (a grate at the end of a hole) and a verb (like grating cheese while cooking), and they have weirdly divergent origins. They both showed up in the late fourteenth century and both come from an Old French word, grate for the noun and grater for the verb. When grate first showed up as a noun, it actually meant a grill for cooking and then a little later the metal covering thing. It comes from the Medieval Latin grata, a lattice, which in turn comes from the classical Latin cratis, which has pretty much the same meaning. And by pretty much I mean exactly. The you’re-not-going-to-believe-it part of this is that cratis is the origin word for hurdle. Wow. Anyway, the verb kind of has a mysterious origin. Like I said, it’s grater in Old French, and that’s from kratton in Frankish and krattojan in Proto Germanic. Before that? ??? No one knows. It’s thought that it imitative in origin. In other words, people thought that scraping something off sounded like “grate”. There you have it. The two forms of grate aren’t related.

Grateful showed up in the mid sixteenth century meaning “pleasing to the mind” as well as full of gratitude. Way back then there used to be a word grate that had nothing to do with the words in the previous paragraph and instead was an adjective that meant pleasant. That word came from the classical Latin gratus, agreeable, the origin word for grace. Gratitude comes from the same family (unsurprisingly). It showed up in the mid fifteenth century meaning goodwill, coming from the Middle French gratitude and Medieval Latin gratitudem, which is from gratus, too. Ingrate comes from the same place, although it showed up much later, in the late seventeenth century. It comes from the classical Latin ingratus, thankless, and is a mix of the prefix in- (meaning not in this case) and gratus. So at least something in all this makes sense.

Words that sound like they might be related but aren’t: integrate, migrate, denigrate and conflagration.

TL;DR: If a word has grate in it, it probably isn’t related to another word with grate in it. And maybe I’ll do all those grate words next week.



  1. One of those unusual words that was universal in use but not in meaning. Great! (Which I'm sure has nothing to do with any of those either.)

  2. So, lattice turned into grate and hurdle? Because a hurdle... Yeah, I got nothing.

  3. And then there's grating your teeth, done in the company of those you don't like, but the action's quite similar to grating cheese.

  4. I don't know how anyone ever learns English....

  5. It is fascinating to learn a little bit of the history of words. So thanks for that. I wonder if in the next century someone will be blogging (or whatever the future blogging will be) about the word 'twerking', which made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary this century. Funny how words come about...

    Have a lovely weekend. Thanks again for a super post.

  6. All these tangents when you think there might be some relation between words. English is interesting.


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