What is the origin of the word ‘grockle’?

'Grockle' is an informal and often slightly derogatory term for a tourist. It was first popularized because of its use by the characters in the film The System (1964), which is set in the Devon resort of Torquay during the summer season. Some older dictionaries suggested that it might be a West Country dialect word. Other scholars have put forward the theory that it originated in a comparison of red-faced tourists (wearing baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads) to 'Grock', a clown and music-hall performer who was famous in the first half of the 20th century.

The word 'grockle' was indeed picked up by The System's scriptwriter from local people during filming in Torquay. However, it was apparently not an 'old local dialect word'. According to research by a local journalist in the mid-1990s, the word in fact originated from a strip cartoon in the children's comic Dandy entitled 'Danny and his Grockle'. (The grockle was a magical dragon-like creature.) A local man, who had had a summer job at a swimming pool during as a youngster, said that he had used the term as a nickname for a small elderly lady who was a regular customer one season. During banter in the pub among the summer workers, 'grockle' then became generalized as a term for summer visitors.

This development seems to have occurred in, or only shortly before, the summer in which The System was filmed: the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary has no examples of the word dating from before the release of The System (though one or two people from the south-west remain convinced that they knew it before then).

 

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