The 1957 children’s book by Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is a beloved holiday classic. In addition to the book, most American children know the late 1960s cartoon version of the story as well as the more recent Jim Carrey live action film. In the story, a dyspeptic green holiday hater impersonates Santa in order to break into the Whoville houses and steal all the holiday trappings. Spoiler alert: Christmas comes anyway, even without the gifts, and the Grinch learns the error of his ways.
One hears the term “grinch” tossed around a lot to describe grouchy people who figuratively or literally steal the fun away from Christmas. There are always a troubling number of stories about holiday thefts by real-life grinches who break into parked cars or homes to steal holiday goodies. And of course we all have our own grinchy moments while waiting in lines at post offices and cash registers.
What is the origin of the word Grinch? When you run a search on US Google, you invariably find references to Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book crediting Dr. Seuss with coining the term. It’s a very evocative word—part grouch, part pinch—and you want to give him credit for his Dickensian inventiveness.
However, any French speaker can tell you that the word grincheux has long been used to describe curmudgeons throughout the year, not just during the holidays. When the Walt Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs appeared before French audiences in 1938, the fractious dwarf Grumpy was re-christened Grincheux. Theodore Geisel, before he became beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, was known to have traveled widely in Europe in the late 1930s before World War II broke out in late 1939. Perhaps an encounter with a French grincheux—in the theatre or on the street—made a strong enough impression on him to inspire him while writing in the 1950s. Who knows?
Happy Holidays from all of us at MTM LinguaSoft. Here’s wishing you a Grinch-free holiday week!