Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Gremial

Pronounced /ˈgriːmɪəl/Help with pronunciation

This rather rare and specialist word has turned up twice in recent years in newspapers in the UK, in both cases in obituaries of Church of England bishops.

One had the phrase “gremial college”, the other referred to a bishop being “attired in mitre, ceremonial gloves and gremial”. Though they are obviously different senses, it may be surprising to learn that they are closely connected. Both derive from late Latin gremiālis, which in turn comes from the anatomically imprecise gremium, the lap or bosom.

When you are scholastically gremial, you have figuratively laid your head in the welcoming lap or bosom of a university or college: you are not only a member, you’re living there. Older documents would at times refer to non-gremial students who were enrolled but who lived elsewhere. The word was confined to locations in which knowledge of the classical languages was common; though you might also describe servants who lived in as gremial, nobody ever did. Gremial in the clerical context is a silk apron worn during confirmations or when conferring holy orders, to prevent vestments being stained by drips of the chrism oil.

There is a third sense, carrying the idea of a bosom friend, which is actually the oldest. This is now very rare and I can find only one modern use:

“You are very fond of him, I believe?” “Am I? Yes; perhaps I am. I would not call him a gremial friend — I have not known him long enough — but I am very much attached to him. I am sorry that you are not.”

Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian, 1970.

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+ LinkedIn Email

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 10 Dec. 2011

Advice on copyright

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.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gre2.htm
Last modified: 10 December 2011.