Please tell me what GRIDLING is...

First published on MySpace blog - 1/12/08
By special request, a definition of the word "GRIDLING". This article first appeared on our "GRIDLER" website in 2000. Don't look for it, it's no longer there...

Please tell me what GRIDLING is?
...a 'Q' not too 'FA', these days

Let me explain. "Gridling" (or "griddling" - the word was spelt with one or two "D"s) was, it is alleged, a Victorian tradition of busking, whereby the performer would sing and play very badly, so that passers-by would pay them coins to shut up and go away.

Our glorious founder informed me that he came across the word in "The Autobiography of a Super Tramp", the memoirs of itinerent monopod and poet (he's the bloke who wrote all that "No time to stand and stare" gubbins), William Henry Davies (1871-1940) - nothing to do with the Fender Rhodes-driven beardy wimp-rockers of the seventies.

See especially Chapter 23: "Gridling" and Chapter 31: "Some Ways Of Making A Living", quoted here: "But with all these advantages of a light and profitable stock, there are two men who scorn to carry even these and will not on any account make any pretence at selling. These two men are the gridler and the downrighter. The former sings hymns in the streets, and he makes his living by the sound of his voice. Professional singers are paid according to the richness, sweetness, and compass of their voices, but the gridler's profit increases as his vocal powers decline."

The big Oxford English Dictionary in the library puts it like this (rather disappointingly) -

"griddle (gri.d'l) v-slang. intr. To sing in the streets as a beggar"

- but quotes some juicy examples from publications of the day:

"...another woman, whose husband had got a month for griddling in the main drag..." (Mayhew 1851)

"Cardiff Jack's never got so low as to be gridling on the main drag..." (Besant & Rice 1877)

"They were singing a hymn, or what is better known in the begging fraternity as 'gridling'." (Daily News 8th February 1892)

In Thomas Hardy's "Ethelberta", one of the characters says "I'll finish the griddling", although this almost certainly refers to something else altogether.

The deeper origins of the word "gridle" become even more apparent when one digs into Partridge's Dictionary of Slang, which describes a griddler as "a street singer, especially one without printed words or music". It is thought that the word might come from "Ghiv", the Romany verb "to sing" and, it is noted, "griddle" was also the itinerent entertainers' slang name for the fiddle (the string-ed kind).

The word "Gridler" also has something to do with map-making in Turkey, there appears to be a piece of boxmaking machinery called a Votator-Gridler and there is a character called Gridling, a roarer, in a play call "The Clink" (but I dunno who it's by).

There are a lot of people named Gridling, mainly of Germanic extraction, including a Gunther Gridling who has undertaken some incomprehensible scientific research stuff, a Clemens Gridling who might be a champion swimmer, a Michaela Gridling, who is an up-and-coming name in the world of American college tennis, and a Peter Gridling who is someone big in the Metropolitan Police's Counter-Terrorist Squad. I also believe there to be a kind of leaf eating insect called a Cranberry Gridler (Chrysoteuchia Topiaria) but I cannot confirm this.

All of which is, of course, fascinating, but has nothing whatsoever to do with the current usage of the term "gridling", which usually refers to the inept comedic stylings of a bunch of scruffs from the south Hampshire area. Further enlightened historical insights will be most welcome.

"Gridling is STUPID... The words are bizarre, spelt with only one zee..."

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