As a crafter and someone who worked at a craft store for several years, I am very familiar with grosgrain ribbon. We were always cutting lengths for girls who wanted to wear it around their ponytails, people who wanted to make sturdy keychains out of it, and people who wanted to use it for decoration.
But when I stopped to think about it, I realized it is a very weird word. I mean, what’s even up with the pronunciation?
[I wanted to find a clip from How I Met Your Mother of Ted Mosby mispronouncing “chameleon,” but I couldn’t find one. I’m sure all of my readers know the scene I mean, so it’s probably okay.]
When I looked up the word, I found out some really fun facts that I just had to share.
First, the word is not exclusive to the ribbon. Grosgrain actually describes the style of the weave, where the weft is heavier than warf, which creates the ribbing, and can refer to a variety of textiles.
Second, the pronunciation. It’s pronounced like grow – grain, the “s” is silent because of its French origins. According to Wikipedia, the word
is both a direct French loan word and a folk corruption of the French word grogram. Grogram, originally gros gram (appeared in literature in 1562), is defined as a coarse, loosely woven fabric of silk, silk and mohair, or silk and wool.
And finally, the fun part. The British admiral Edward Vernon was nicknamed “Old Grogram,” or “Old Grog” for short, because he wore cloaks made out of grogram fabric, rather than opting for more expensive, fancier fabrics.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary,
In Old Grog’s day, sailors in the Royal Navy were customarily given a daily ration of rum, but in 1740 the admiral, concerned about the health of his men, ordered that the rum should be diluted with water. The decision wasn’t very popular with the sailors, who supposedly dubbed the mixture “grog” after Vernon. Today, “grog” can be used as a general term for any liquor, even undiluted, and someone who acts drunk or shaky can be called “groggy.”
But grog isn’t the only thing named after the admiral. George Washington’s older half-brother Lawrence Washington served in the British Navy from 1740 – 42 under Admiral Vernon. When he returned home to the family seat in Virginia, then known as Little Hunting Creek, he renamed it “Mount Vernon” in honor of the admiral he admired.
After Lawrence died in 1752 and his wife died in 1761, George Washington inherited full ownership of the estate, and it became famous as the home of the father of America.
So there you have it, the link between crafting, booze, and history!