On Gruck


First Person

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.