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Gorp

Q From Katherine Phelps: I would be interested to hearing more about gorp. I was told that it stands for “good old raisins and peanuts”. I ate this regularly with a sprinkling of dark chocolate chips while I was working on my Bachelor’s degree. Given this is an acronym, perhaps the origin is spurious?

A This is a common term in the US for a type of high-energy snack, especially — as you imply — one containing raisins and nuts, plus chocolate. American hikers also know it as trail mix. The first example in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1972.

It’s said that it comes from the acronym you quote, but that’s certainly spurious. It’s just a well-meaning attempt to explain a word about whose origins the experts tend to shake their heads sadly.

Some dictionaries point rather uneasily to some appearances of the word as a verb from earlier in the twentieth century. In 1904, the publication Dialect Notes noted that to gorp was to eat greedily; this is backed up by other references recorded in the Dictionary of American Regional English. A possible link is obvious enough, though a direct connection isn’t recorded and etymologists have to be cautious.

In turn, that word may one form of an older English verb variously spelled as gaup, gawp, gorp, gowp, gawk, or gauk. One basic meaning is to stare in a stupid or rude manner. But an earlier sense was of staring open-mouthed in witless astonishment. This seems to have led to gawp up, meaning to devour (presumably from the open-mouthed bit of the meaning), which just might have led to the early twentieth-century American dialect sense from which our sense may have later derived. Sorry to hedge my language so heavily, but we really don’t know for sure.

Steven Milne told me after this item appeared in the newsletter that he knows another supposedly acronymic origin from the 1960s: “From my earlier Boy Scout days and canoe trips up the Gunflint trail on the Canadian border in Minnesota, gorp was understood to stand for Granola, Oatmeal, Raisins and Peanuts, and that’s what we mixed up to eat.”

I’ve found the word in the Appleton Post Crescent of Wisconsin in 1962 in an article that suggests yet another acronymic origin, but a completely different meaning:

“Gorp” is taken by all campers and canoers. (Named for the flavors grape, orange, raspberry and pineapple, “gorp” becomes a tasty thirst-quencher when mixed with cool water.)

It sounds as though the writer confused the foodstuff with a fruit-flavoured powder such as Kool-Aid, and thereby created another version of the folk etymology, but who knows?

Incidentally, Australians and New Zealanders would prefer to call it scroggin, a word that was created in New Zealand, probably among mountaineers in South Island, but whose origin is even more mysterious than that of gorp, if that were possible. Amanda Cossham tells me that it’s said to be an acronym from Sultanas, Currants, Raisins, Orange (peel), Ginger and Nuts — a neat parallel to the story about the origin of gorp, but equally unlikely to be true.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 9 Apr. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 9 April 2005.