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On Gruck

April 17, 2012 | by

Stout toby jugs are gruckimish. So are the giant baby-head sculptures on the lawn of the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Lollipop Guild, Hogarth cartoons, Captain Beefheart, and many parts of Petronius’s Satyricon, especially the verse about the insipid eunuch.

Gruckimish is a word my best friend Elaine and I invented when we were approximately four years old, and one we’ve used ever since. To our minds, then and now, it fills a gaping void in the lexicon. Gruckimish lies somewhere between funny, grotesque, and cute. There is no exact equivalent in English; if there’s one in another language, I would like to know it. Gruckimish things are often anthropomorphic, but by no means exclusively. The main thing about something gruckimish is that gruck (the noun form) is always the unintended byproduct of the creator’s intention. Things that are supposed to be funny are rarely gruckimish. On the other hand, to call something gruckimish is never a value judgment: it is a simple statement of fact.

Because the definition is so vague, people often misidentify things as gruckimish that are not. The Lucky Charms leprechaun, for instance, is not gruckimish; however, the clurichaun—a cousin of the leprechaun who is habitually drunk and surly—is. Spuds Mackenzie is not gruckimish. But! The Expedia gnome, occasionally, is. Gargoyles are a more complicated question: it’s really case by case.

Like pornography, you know it when you see it. The best example I've ever seen is a certain shrieking clown who appears in a routine in the 1945 Betty Grable vehicle Diamond Horseshoe, but my most concerted efforts have failed to turn up a clip. So the search continues. Recently, Elaine and I were at Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City, and came upon the following serving dish, labeled “Man in Moon.”

“That’s not the man in the moon,” said Elaine. “It’s just a distorted pig face.” Nevertheless, we determined to add to to the unofficial Hall of Fame we’ve been maintaining since we were very young. If asked to sum it up in two images, I’d have to say: the verse “The Cheese stands alone” and Ruth Gordon. But a picture is of course worth a thousand words, and herewith, I give you an abbreviated gallery of assorted gruck.


Face skirt.

Seed Packet.


Man Suit. Musée de Vieux Montréal

"La monstrua desnuda" (1680), de Juan Carreño de Miranda


Pornographic parsnip.



  1. Lorin Stein | April 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Ignatius Reilly?

  2. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Oh, definitely. And Dickens, needless to say, is the master of the genre!

  3. Jacqueline | April 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Goodness I love this post. The English language certainly is lacking a word for what you are describing, and I think gruckimish works perfectly.

  4. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you, Jacqueline! I am so glad you enjoyed!

  5. dan h | April 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Like Nabakov’s definition of ‘poshlost,’ I loved this without being certain I fully understood. My failing, not yours (or the dead Russian’s). Is Worzel Gummidge gruckimish? Can words be gruckimish? Somehow your early descriptions of what is and what is not reminded me of Lenny Bruce’s ‘Jewish and Goyish.’ That’s likely cos gruckimish sounds like goyish. But perhaps you could do a ‘Gruckimish and Garish,’ or whatever the antithesis of gruck is. Keep up the great work (and word)!

  6. GZ | April 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Agree with Jacqueline. How about Jim Henson’s creations viz. Snuffleupagus or the Skeksis?

  7. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    @GZ, the Swedish Chef, definitely. Particularly when singing.

  8. Joe Carlson | April 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Precision, please, or The World of Gruckimish falls apart.

    A “Toby Jug” is defined as a jug or pitcher of a full-bodied character. A “Character Jug” – which you have pictured here – is only the head or face, and often shoulders. My hometown is honored to be the Royal Doulton epicenter of this great (and lucrative) art form. Open Tuesdays and Thursdays or “by appointment.” Individual and group tours welcome. Mention my name and – well, you’ll rudely be shown the door.

  9. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    @Joe True – but at no point did I claim the pictured pompadour’d fellow was a toby! Merely an exemplar of high gruck!

  10. GZ | April 17, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Yes of course, the Swedish Chef. The mustachioed number high in the annals of gruck.

  11. Molly Young | April 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Pickwick Papers is one big pile of gruck!

  12. L | April 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Winston Churchill, Falstaff, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Cheshire Cat?

  13. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    L: especially AGREED on Churchill’s bespoke tailored “onesie,” teenagers who affect Cheshire Cat-esque mannerisms. Not to be ignored: Old King Cole. Often.

  14. Sadie Stein | April 17, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    @Molly YES! Exactly. Also: Mrs. Gummidge.

  15. bois | April 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

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