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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2013-02-11 20:51:51

From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 1101

"the grip" for the flu

The French word for flu is “la grippe”. There was a brief flurry of use of “the grip” in English, from 1890 to 1925. I collected several hits before I took the trouble to find out that “the grip” is a proper calque. The French usage is a borrowing from German, meaning, of all things, the grip. From Skeat,

E. grip , sb., A.S. grip-e < || grip-en, pp. of gríp-an, to gripe, grasp.

I saw “the grip” first here, on the charming twitter feed of quotes from old newspapers, Tweets of Old.

R.L. Ripples @TweetsofOld
It is said that a band of 800 Indians, located a few miles from Winnipeg, Man., is being wiped out by the grip. VT1890 … 7520044032

“Drake!” snapped Mr. Brundage. “Down with the grip, just as we have everything lined up for his trip south. Go? Of course he can’t go!”
Boy’s Life, March 1930

My dear Comrade Sanger:-
I have been down with the grip or this acknowledgement of your very appreciative letter would hve been made sooner.
Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1917

The connection was also raised here: Anyway, no eggcorn here, but interesting to me.



#2 2013-02-12 00:00:14

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

Re: "the grip" for the flu

There was a brief flurry of use of “the grip” in English, from 1890 to 1925.

I would have no trouble understanding “grip/grippe” in English as a word for an illness – have seen it too often. But I know that I wasn’t always as familiar with it as I am now. In the early 1970s, when I was in Germany for a few months on a research trip and staying at a university near Bonn, I fell sick. I went to the University physician. He looked me over and pronounced “Die Grippe.” I thanked him and left his office, puzzling over what my strange malady might be. As soon as I got back to my room, I looked it up. I was relieved to find that it was nothing more than the commoner gardener flu.

The French usage is a borrowing from German

To judge by the spelling, I would guess that Die Grippe entered German through French. The nineteenth century Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyklopädie für die gebildeten Stände, (“General German Encyclopedia for the Educated Classes”) which later morphed into the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, says this (loosely translated):

Grippe – an illness that in modern times, especially in 1831 and 1833, was an epidemic over the greatest part of the earth. There are several opinions about the etymology of the word. The most acceptable of these appears to be that it derives from the Old French griper, i.e., seize or suddenly catch, related to the German greifen and the Low German griepen.

Strange, isn’t it, that we use an Italian word and a French word for the common flu. The OED speculates that “influenza” came into English “in connection with a particular outbreak of influenza which spread from Italy” in the mid 1700s and that “grip/grippe” was borrowed a few decades later in response to an outbreak in France. What did the English call this disease before they borrowed the French and Italian words? I’d have a hard time believing that there was no native English strain of the flu.

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



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