Posted by: Jack Henry | December 20, 2018

Editor’s Corner: The Grisly Details About “Grizzly”

Two commonly confused words are grisly and grizzly. Here are the definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • grisly: inspiring horror or intense fear; inspiring disgust or distaste
  • grizzly: sprinkled or streaked with gray

Grizzly can also be short for grizzly bear, which was probably named for its gray fur.

  • grizzly bear: a very large brown bear (Ursus arctos) of northwestern North America

Some people think that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark meant to describe the North American brown bear as scary, not gray. (They’re often both!) In 1814 (less than a decade after the Lewis and Clark Expedition), Henry Marie Brackenridge described grizzly bears as “the enemy of man” and wrote that they “literally thirst for human blood.”

The most common mistake writers make is misusing the word grizzly to mean horrible or disgusting. A Google search yields thousands of results for the phrase “grizzly details” (sic), though some of them are punning references to bears.

A less common mistake is misusing the word gristly:

  • gristly: consisting of or containing gristle (tough cartilaginous, tendinous, or fibrous matter especially in table meats)

I like to use mnemonics to remember confusing word pairs. I couldn’t find any good ones online, so bear with me as I share two that I came up with.

Tip: If something is scary, it is grisly. Grisly contains the letter S for scary.

Tip: If meat is tough, it is gristly. Gristly contains the letter T for tough.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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