Gaw pl. gromez

‘lackey, servant; man’

(Modern English groom)


This word has no agreed etymology; both of the main proposed sources with attested forms are problematic themselves and the direction of loan is disputed: (1a) ON grómr ‘man’, appears to fit form and sense very well (thus Kullnick 15, Stratmann 1867, Strat-Brad s.v. grom), but the evidence for such an ON word, and its meaning, is quite slender. It is clearly attested (as OED notices) only in a list of skaldic heiti for hǫlðar (i.e. ‘yeomen’) in the AM 242 fol. version (c. 1350) of Snorra Edda, though it is also often identified with the OIcel nickname <gromr, gromur>. But the vowel in these OIcel forms cannot be assumed to be long, and any sense one attaches to them is purely speculative. OED suggests the ON word itself may represent a loan from ME, though Scandinavian authorities have interpreted it as a native word and identified it (more or less tentatively) with OIcel gróm ‘grime, dirt’ (cp. Icel adj. grómur ‘dirty’; with which cp. Far gróm ‘sediment’, MDu groom ‘entrails, dirt’ as well as a range of near-cognates with different vocalism). (1b)  MDu grom, Du grom ‘fish entrails or waste’, belonging to this same Gmc gr-m set, in a supposed sub-sense ‘fry of fish, offspring, (jocularly) children’ has sometimes been offered as the etymon of ME grome (thus Bense 128) or as a comparandum (so Strat-Brad, TGD); but, as OED points out, the short vowel does not fit the phonology of the ME word. (2) Alternatively, a connection with OFr gromet ‘servant, valet, shop-boy, wine-merchant’s assistant’, which coincides at least partly in sense, has been suggested (so TGD, GDS).  OFr gromet itself certainly seems to have been loaned into English as grummet (OED s.v. grummet n.1, ‘ship’s boy, cabin boy; (Sus. dial.) awkward boy’, but the relationship between these words and the suffixless grome is more difficult to make out. The etymology of the OFr (and its rarer by-forms grom (AN), grome, gourme (15c. Brittany)) is opaque and could well be explained as a borrowing from ME grome (with Fr diminutive suffix -et) (so AEW, FEW). Earlier authorities (Skeat 1901, Björkman 1902: 379) prefer to derive the ME from Fr, and Kahane and Kahane (1961: 464-5) suggest a Norman Fr nautical term which is in turn derived from ON grómr (as in (1)). Both explanations require some leaps of logic to arrive at ME grome. (3) Entirely speculative etymologies have proposed an unattested OE *grōm and possible influence from the common n. guma on some of the word's senses (thus OED, MED, Zettersten 1965: 217).

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *grem- (gram-, grum-); (3) *grō-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

?grómr ‘man’
(ONP grómr (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far gróma, grómutur, Icel gróm

OE Cognate

(3) *grōm

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Widespread in ME literature from AW, and in surnames from (1186) in Pipe R.Soc.36EPNE (s.v. grome) records it in place-names from Kent and Sus.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 1006, 1127 

PS emend Gaw 1006 <gromez> to *gomes, on the grounds that a reference to servants would be out of place here (see their note).


MED grōm (n.) , OED groom (n.1) , HTOED , Dance grome; (1) de Vries gróm, Mag. gróm; Gromr, Jóh. 397–8, Orel *ʒrōmaz ~ *ʒrōman, de Vries DuEtymDic grom (2) OED grummet (n.1) , AND grom, FEW (Germanische Elemente) grom, DEAF gromet (m.)