Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Things You Should Know About Me: Grunny

I was in the first grade of grammar school when I learned that "grunny" was not a real word.

Lots of homes have so-called "family words;" made-up words that have meaning to a particular group of people but no one else. In our family we had the word "grunny" which meant, well... poop. Why we didn't just say poop, I have no idea. Maybe I, as a toddler, came up with it. Maybe my mom invented it, as a nice way to refer to doody. Who can say? The precise etymology of grunny is lost in the mists of time.

Grunny was a versatile word that could be used as both noun and verb. It was used to describe feces of course, as in "Hey, there's grunny on the floor!" It could also be used to describe the act of defecating, as in "I have to grunny." There was even a past tense of grunny, as in, "I grunnied twice yesterday." One could even use it as an epithet, as in, "You're a big grunny head!" Yes, grunny was quite a word alright.

I wasn't the only one who used the word; my parents and even my grandparents said it was well, so I quite naturally assumed that grunny was a bona fide word in the English language. As a toddler with little or no access to the outside world, I had no idea it existed only in my family.

Then came the fateful year I entered first grade and the public school system. That's when I found out the terrible truth.

I was an average kid in school; I wasn't the most popular, nor was I hated or shunned like some poor souls in my class. I was just sort of there. We were having recess indoors that day, due to inclement weather. I was playing with the kids in my class when I realized I had to go to the restroom. I said, "I'll be right back, I have to grunny!" Cue the "needle scratching a record" sound effect, as the kids all stared at me. Finally one of them said, "What did you say?" I told them again that I had to grunny. As soon as I said it the second time, the horrible realization descended upon me, like a suffocating dry cleaner bag, the kind marked, "This is NOT a toy". Cold and pitiless realization filled my soul as I realized there was no grunny. It was a made up word for babies, foisted upon me by my parents, who, though they were miles away, probably sensed what was happening that very minute and were laughing and cackling away at my humiliation.

Of course the other kid immediately started shouting, "Hey guys, get this! Canada just said he had to grunny!" The news spread like wildfire throughout the classroom and the derisive laughter got louder and louder. I stood there motionless, the way Charlie Brown stands amidst a background of upper case "HA HA HAs." I didn't know what to do. Should I swing my fists to stop the laughter? I was an only child until age seven and the only kid in our entire neighborhood; I didn't know from fighting. Should I run? To where? We weren't allowed to leave the classroom without permission. I could have ran and hid in the art supply cabinet, but that would have probably resulted in further humiliation as the other kids locked me inside. Should I curl up like an armadillo and let the taunts bounce from my scaly hide as my mind receded into a happier place? No, I needed to keep my eye on this bunch, as they were prone to administering wedgies. I ended up halfheartedly making a rather unconvincing argument that grunny was indeed a real word, in spite of my new found knowledge that it definitely was not.

Eventually the commotion attracted the teacher's attention and she came over to find out what the ruckus was all about. When the other kids told her, she tried, most likely out of pity, to take my side and tell the other kids that many families make up their own words and there was nothing wrong with that. I wasn't reassured though, as her mask of calm authority cracked just enough to see that she was trying to stifle a braying donkey laugh. "I see," I thought as my little eyes narrowed and I shot her a steely glance, which she caught as she turned away, abashed. "I cannot even rely on the authority figures for protection. I am alone in this urban jungle."

For the rest of the day our lessons were punctuated with the sound of nearby classmates telling each other that by George they thought they had to grunny, or was that grunny they smelled wafting through the air? It was an interminable afternoon.

Dinner at our house that night was strained, with a side dish of tension. I ate perfunctorily, calmly picking at my food, waiting for my mother to ask the question she asked every evening: "Did anything interesting happen at school today?"

"Oh, the usual," I replied, in a cold and emotionless monotone. "We learned some spelling words. A few historical dates. An art project."

"T-that's nice," said my mother, unsettled by the soullessness in my voice. "Anything else?" she asked.

"No, nothing," I said, seemingly putting an end to the topic. "Oh, there was one thing," I said, the same way Columbo toyed with his suspects. "I learned something today that might interest you. Did you know that GRUNNY IS NOT A WORD!!?!?!????

"W-what?" stammered my mother. "Of c-course it is! Don't be silly."

"Oh, don't pretend," I hissed. "You knew it was a made up word for babies, but you never told me. You let me waltz saying it all these years because you thought it was cute. You could have at least told me the truth before I started school and blurted it out in front of the entire class!"

My father, his attention momentarily diverted from the evening news on TV, eyed me and asked, "You said it at school? HAW HAW! What a little dope!"

"Thank you for that analysis, Father," I said coldly. "What other fake words have you taught me, hmm? Please tell me before I go to school and embarrass myself again.
Is 'doorknob' a real word? What about 'sandal?" 'Butterscotch?' 'Repossess?' 'Spoonerism?' 'Tincture?' Is this even English I'm speaking?"

"All right, shut yer yap," said my father. "I'm tryin' to hear the TV."

"Of course, father," I answered. "In fact, may I be excused? I have to go to the bathroom and... what do you call it? I can't quite think of the word... 'Gunny? Grubby?' Gosh, if only there were a word for what I have to do."

I gave my parents the silent treatment for the rest of the night and sat brooding in my room. Eventually my classmates forgot about the "Grunny Incident," and my humiliation became a distant memory. But from then on I took anything my parents told me with a large grain of salt.


  1. If it makes you feel any better - I was about 12 before I discovered that two of my favourite cousins weren't actually my cousins - and there were tears when I was informed.

    As with many kids we referred to a couple of my parents friends as Aunt & Uncle (as ya do - or at least as we did) but who bothers to explain to a small child that these aren't the same kind of Aunts and Uncles as some of your other Aunts and Uncles. So of course I assumed that the kids were my cousins. Why would I think anything different? After all, those kids of my other Aunts and Uncles are my cousins. Anyway - the non-cousins apparently WERE in the loop and I felt extremely foolish. I got a batch of humiliation and two less cousins all in one go. It was a grand day.

  2. Ha. We sort of did that in my family. My mom's family took in a foster child when she was young, and for years I thought this foster kid's kids were my real cousins. They were no blood relation whatsoever.

    Also, my parents would just automatically call any kids related to us "cousins," whether they actually were or not. I guess they did that because it was easier than trying to explain that a certain kid was my Dad's cousin's newphew's son or something like that.

    I wish we handled family terms the way they do in China. They have incredibly specific words for family members there. They have a word for a brother's child and a separate word for a sister's child and so on, so that you know exactly where that person stands in the family.

  3. Yeah - we had another odd cousin thing too; After many many years I discovered my Aunt was actually my mom's first cousin - which made my Aunt my cousin and her kids (who I thought were first cousins) actually third cousins. So weird.

    I'm just happy the internet provided me with a collective noun for my brother's children. I always thought it was weird that I had to refer to them collectively as my niece and nephew. Now - they're my nibblings. :)

  4. My family used the word "grunny" too. They are from Kansas.

  5. The Searcher: Really? Awesome! At least I wasn't the only one to use that word. I've never ever heard anyone use it my entire adult life, so I assumed it was made up. Maybe it really is an obscure word?

  6. In my family, we used the word grunny. Poop was a bad word and my cousins' word "caca" was even worse. For us, though, grunny was not a verb. We did not grunny. We would go grunny. I have never known anyone outside my family who used the word grunny. Your post made me laugh so hard. Thank you.

  7. losingvisiongaininginsight: Another member of Team Grunny!

  8. I too, a child of the 1950's, used the term and it just came up with my wife for the first time ever. I grew up in Benton Harbor, MIch and my Mom who is in her 80's used it. I will ask her the origin of Grunny in our families.

  9. @kvanoftheharbor: Hmm. Maybe grunny was a midwest thing? I thought our family was the only one who used the word. Good to know we weren't after all.

  10. I lived in Michigan and my family's heritage is Dutch. We used grunny growing up. I was told that it was Dutch.

  11. Interesting. I vaguely recall my Grandpa saying he was of Dutch ancestry, so maybe that's where we got the word.

  12. This was great! My mom used grunny as well. I will have to say it came from her mom's side of the family. My grandma was born and raised in Georgia. Dutch ancestry... Not sure but you never know.

    Thanks again for this knee slapping read down memory lane.

  13. So funny -- I found your post by Googling the term "grunny."

    My siblings and I grew up in Oklahoma in the 50s and my parents taught us to use the word grunny (mother from Iowa, father from Kansas). I always thought it was a real word (I thought it was German), but I did notice that no other kids used it. I'm glad to finally learn that we were not the only ones.

  14. My grandparents used the word for diarrhea or pooping! Were from NE Ohio and I'm Dutch on both sides of my family! It must be old and probably Dutch? I never said it by the time I went to school, but always wondered where it came from, Soo.. google, and found this ! Haha

  15. As I said earlier, I think my Grandpa was of Dutch heritage, so that must be the answer. Grunny's a Dutch word!

    1. My parents use the word as well. They were from Ohio but of German heritage.

  16. It was used in my family however the heritage was German from upstate NY. ???

  17. NE Ohio here & my mom used grunny too. It crossed my mind today as my son went into the bathroom, I thought about saying, "Do you need to go grunny?" to joke around. I realized the joke would be on me if he heard that word, then I grew curious & decided to search the vast interweb, see if anyone else ever heard it or if it was made up, maybe a kid's mispronunciation. I have also wondered if it originated from the word "grunt" & that the spelling would actually be grunty as such. I mean, there can be a lot of grunting involved for some so it made sense. Glad to see I'm not alone in this grunny! I believe our family origin is German as well.

  18. NE Ohio here & my mom used grunny too. It crossed my mind today as my son went into the bathroom, I thought about saying, "Do you need to go grunny?" to joke around. I realized the joke would be on me if he heard that word, then I grew curious & decided to search the vast interweb, see if anyone else ever heard it or if it was made up, maybe a kid's mispronunciation. I have also wondered if it originated from the word "grunt" & that the spelling would actually be grunty as such. I mean, there can be a lot of grunting involved for some so it made sense. Glad to see I'm not alone in this grunny! I believe our family origin is German as well.

  19. I love this. I haven't heard this word used by anyone but my siblings. We grew up in Des Moines in the 50s. My children are repulsed by the term, but I find it very fitting.

  20. Grew up in SW Missouri and used grunny too..

  21. Grew up in Idaho with 4 generations using the term grunny. Danish heritage. My kids stopped the tradition because they thought it sounded gross.

  22. My grandparents called it that as well. I always thought it was Russian because of our family heritage. BTW - I still thought it was a real word till I read this post, 35 years old.

  23. I googled the word grunny when it popped into my head playing words with friends. No one but our family used it growing up. Yes,poop was a bad word. too funny! NE Ohio.

  24. We used that word in my family too. I am from northeast Ohio. I laughed out loud (no, really laughed out loud) the other day when I thought of this word. My Google search brought me here.


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