Friday 21 June 2013

Futterneid and Groke

The unchangeable tragedy of all human life is that, however long you study the restaurant menu, when the food arrives everybody else's dishes will look better than your own. Next to this suffering and being alone in an absurd universe are mere hors d'oeuvres.

The Germans have a word for it. Futterneid.

Futterneid is literally food envy and is the feeling you get when somebody's else meal looks and smells better than your own. So far as I can tell (and I'm not at all German) the word can also be used figuratively.

It makes a lovely pair with the old Scots verb to groke, which, as those of you who've read The Horologicon will know, means to stare at somebody while they're eating in the hope that they'll give you some of their food.


  1. I am a devoted fan of your work...and the etymologicon is now my favorite book to give to friends on all-occasions. In my own work writing about emerging education issues ( realized that we confuse ourselves by using the word grade to mean age-based grade level as well as for the A-F grades given to indicate how well students are doing. I was wondering if you might shine any light on how we came to use the same word to indicate two very different ideas of progress in learning. I would be forever indebted!

    1. Grade comes from the Latin word gradus meaning a step. When a child moves from Grade 1 to Grade 2 he/she is taking the first step up the ladder of school organisation. The grades used in assessing a student's work are the steps one takes towards success in one's work. If one gets an F one has really taken a step down. If one scores an A one has taken a step up to the highest level of achievement

  2. My native language being German, the composite term Futterneid caught my attention instantly! And yes, it can be used figuratively. Siblings are often suffering under severe cases of Futterneid, because one brother or sister might just get the most delicious morcel or a larger slice of cheese ... but it is also the greedy feeling for something else but food one craves and begrudges the person who has MORE. The word Futter means fodder, and Neid is envy.

  3. My wife is *such* a groker! Thanks, as ever, for the word.

  4. Of course cats are the past masters of groking. Feline groking is almost an art form. That doesn't mean it always works...