Slang City Mail

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December 13, 2007

Slang of the Week: gerund grinder (noun phrase)
a school teacher

I’d love to come to the dance with you, Biff, but I have to stay home and translate Cicero for Mr. Endicott—that darn old gerund grinder!

Celebrity quote
“Readers who disagree with the "pronouncements" by Word for Word occasionally toss around the word pedant or the phrase gerund grinder. Let's ignore gerund grinder, because only about one person in 10 these days even knows what a gerund is.* But pedant? Very hurtful.”
- Terry O'Connor in The Courier Mail (Australia)

The end of the semester always makes me feel like singing that Alice Cooper classic, “School’s Out [for Summer]”—except it isn’t summer, and though classes are officially over, I am still obliged to read my students’ final papers and submit grades.

I hope that my students don’t see me as a gerund grinder. This term is most often used about teachers, especially Latin teachers, who are more interested in form than content. My mother was forced to take Latin from such a person, and while she can still recite the conjugation of “to love” (and has jokingly done so enough times that I can, too) she is sadly unable to converse with the ghosts of ancient Romans.

While looking for more information on this somewhat antiquated term, I came across an amusing 1945 article in the journal American Speech entitled “Campus Slang at Minnesota.” It defines gerund grinder specifically as an English teacher and gives “Comma Hound” as a synonym.

While some of the other terms in the article, like B.M.O.C. (Big Man on Campus) might be familiar to those who have watched vintage Andy Hardy movies, some are unexpected. Here’s a sample:

“We had good intentions of skull-dragging, but were were swayed by a boula-boula sitting across from us with hardware on his chest. He is a B.M.O.C. and everybody’s L.H.B. Everyone knows he is a chicken butcher, a chic sheik, and a candy leg.”

Translation: We intended to study, but we were distracted by a man sitting across from us who was wearing a fraternity pin. He is a really popular student and everyone is in love with him [literally: lost heart beat]. Everyone knows girls fall for him [literally: he slays the girls], and he is a smooth man who is rich.

*If you’re among the 90% that don’t know what a gerund is, it’s the noun from of a verb. (e.g., *Swimming* is my favorite sport).

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: From our Fun with Words page, it’s The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words, a new book from A Word A Day’s Anu Garg.