5/9/06 Kew’s Corner: The Definition of “Grommet

This isn’t an article dedicated to the “flexible loop that serves as a fastening, support, or reinforcement, the definition for grommet in the Merriam Webster’s dictionary.

No, this is a dedication to those of you who aren’t quite adults –you’re in your teens or even younger, and everyone older than you calls you a “grom or a “grommet (or both), and I’d be willing to bet that at some point, you’ve wondered: “Where’d this word come from, anyway?

Thank Australia. In the 1970s the Aussie slang word “grommet usurped the American 1950s/1960s slang word “gremmie, which is the same thing: “an insolent, hyperenthusiastic and frequently underfoot young surfer, as described by Matt Warshaw in his The Encyclopedia of Surfing. How and why that occurred could likely be tied to the “coolness of Aussie slang (I don’t know about you, but I reckon “grommet sounds better than “gremmie).

So where did “gremmie come from? Consider the dictionary’s definition of gremlin, a word coined in 1941:

“A cause of error or equipment malfunction conceived of as a small mischievous gnome.

Today there are plenty of rascally little surfer kids who qualify as “mischievous gnomes, and back in the ’50s and ’60s, things were no different. Picture an old guy–age 25, say–in 1961 running after the sunburned, towheaded 14-year-old who flicked a spit wad (which stuck) at the old guy’s back: “I’m gonna get you, you damn little gremlin!

So, like so much of surfing’s casual vernacular, the word “gremlin eventually smoothed to “gremmie, and once the hipness of Australian arrived on American shores, “gremmie became “grommet, lasting to the present day.

Comments? Email kewscorner@gmail.com