Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In the glomming

I found out today that I've been using the word glom incorrectly--maybe. I would have to go back to campus to find out for sure, but I'm trying to avoid campus not because I'm unfriendly but because of what I'm calling the sabbatical effect. If I were on campus every day, all the gossip and negative vibes and bad karma and generally icky gunk that grows in the darker corners of academe would waft my way gradually, a bit at a time, but now that I'm visiting campus rarely, all that gunk gloms onto me all at once in a big goopy lump.

See that? I used glom onto as if I were a magnet and all that campus gunk were iron, or as if I were a spoon sliding through a pot of honey. I just can't stop all that stuff from sticking to me.

But that's wrong, or it may be wrong, depending on what dictionary you look at. suggests that the word springs from the Scots glaum or glahm "to snatch at" or "to steal."  (No relation to gloaming, which comes to us from Old English glom meaning twilight.)

All the definitions I found allow glom to be used alone transitively meaning to steal, to grab or catch, even (colloquially) to arrest. The Dictionary of American Slang offers the following sentence: "He gloms just about everything he needs."

I don't know about you, but if I wanted to snatch a word to use in that sort of sentence, I would never glom glom. (Except I just did it. Doesn't it sound odd?) But perhaps glom agglomerates different meanings when it becomes glom onto.

Um, no. Here is the full entry:
glom onto: to take hold or possession of: He wanted to glom onto some of that money.
Sure, but if our nameless hero succeeds in snatching some cash, does the money glom onto him? If I accumulate campus gunk, does it glom onto me or do I glom onto it?

I suppose the OED would provide enlightenment, but I would have to venture out and drive to campus and use the online OED database, which I can't access from home. The very thought of driving out in the gloaming to explore the roots of glom makes me gloomy--but does gloom glom onto me? I wish I knew.

1 comment:

Bardiac said...

Here's what the OED says: trans. To steal; to grab, snatch. Also intr., usu. const. on to.

I think of it as attaching to, rather than to grab or snatch. My sense is more of a thing attaching itself and going along with what it's attached to, if that makes sense. And always, I use "onto."