Wednesday, September 12, 2007

crocks

JHM, American reader of the Financial Times (UK), sent this query in March. (Yes, I'm still on the March queries!)
...the usage that has caught my eye today was the use of the word 'crock.' Americans, if they are anything like me (not meaning to offend) will be uncomfortable using an unmodified 'crock.' 'crock-pots' are fine, as are earthen crocks et cetera, but a "crock of gold," as I read recently in a FT headline, or, worse "private equity is a crock of gold," from the article itself seems at best an oxymoron, and perhaps suggests gold of a less than aureate odour.

Is my mind in the gutter, or is the phrase 'crock of s***,' and its shortening to just plain 'crock' less common in the UK?
I suppose I should start out by pointing out that (BrE) crock of gold is not unmodified...it's got of gold telling you about that crock. Half the reason why crock of gold sounds odd to AmE ears is that the AmE phrase is pot of gold. So, BrE and AmE speakers have different ways of describing the container at the end of the rainbow.

The other half of the reason is that crock in AmE can mean 'foolish talk; nonsense' (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.), which derives from its use in the phrase crock of shit, which means much the same thing. In fact, crock can also be used as a mass noun, in the same sorts of constructions as (bull)shit is used (emphasis added below):
Crocs? Just A Load of Crock --blog headline (after my own sartorial heart), on Oh for the love of me!

The repetitively, diluted story is full of crock with many implausible situations and it doesn't leave too much up to the imagination. [review of Jaws: The Revenge on IMDb]
One can also use a crock to mean 'a story full of nonsense', 'a scam' or (AmE) a load of baloney. For example, this Men's Health story ('Cure or Crock?') passes judg(e)ment about different therapies: 'when it's a cure' and 'when it's a crock'.

So, all this shittiness is originally AmE, but crock of shit is now well-known in BrE (1640 Google hits on .uk sites), and the briefer crock=shit seems to have made it too. In fact, the only Internet cases of stop talking crock, a logical step from the above 'shit' examples, are to be found on a UK student discussion forum (interestingly enough, discussing whether the word retarded can be used in a clinical setting--which we've touched on on this blog too).

BrE (and apparently AusE, from the internet examples) has its own crock, which comes from Scottish (so, historically unrelated to the above meanings), meaning 'a broken-down or worn-out person, animal or vehicle' and as a verb (transitive or intransitive) meaning 'to break down or collapse'. Many internet examples of this use have to do with racing horses:
"This has all the elements of a fairytale like that of Seabiscuit, who was a supposed crock who became a legend" [quote from a bookmaker in The Telegraph]
Finally, if I'm going to be complete (or at least as complete as I can be) about dialectal uses of crock, there's another meaning in New England AmE, 'soot' (etymology unknown).

13 comments:

flashgordonnz said...

All over the world now, is this crock (which is = bollocks?)

What a load of bollocks/what a crock of s***.

Not heard the aussie use of crock. But in NZ we do get "crook" backs, knees, etc. A bad cold might have me feeling crook.

jhm said...

A lame attempt to defend (or clarify, in the political parlance) my use of 'modify,' I not that the idea behind my original question was that 'crock of gold' could only sound like irony without 'crock' being somehow modified to make it sound like a specific example of a container for which 'pot' was somehow inadequate.

I completely didn't think of 'croc' (as in 'the croc that laid the golden egg'). funny how a missing 'k' can blot out thoughts of an obvious homonym.

Anonymous said...

I've also heard it in a garden center as short for crockery, the shards of which you put in the bottom of a pot to stop the soil falling out the bottom and allow drainage.

Rob Clack said...

I also (UKE) use it as a piece of broken pottery to go in the bottom of a plant pot. Ties in with Crock of gold, seems to me.

And also as in Old Crock = beat up old car.

JohnB said...

Dictionary.com has the following definitions ...

1. an earthenware pot, jar, or other container.
2. a fragment of earthenware; potsherd.

1. a person or thing that is old, decrepit, or broken-down.
2. Slang. a person who complains about or insists on being treated for an imagined illness.
3. an old ewe.
4. an old worn-out horse.
–verb (used with object)
5. British Slang. to disable or injure.

1. British Dialect. soot; smut.
2. excess surface dye from imperfectly dyed cloth.
–verb (used with object)
3. British Dialect. to soil with soot.
–verb (used without object)
4. (of cloth) to give off excess surface dye when rubbed.

1. a lie; exaggeration; nonsense: The entire story is just a crock.

As you can see, I grabbed definitions from a number of different meanings of the word.

The very first definition in this list (an earthenware pot) is the first thing that springs into my 50(ish) year old BrE brain when I hear the word Crock.

johnb said...

Ohh - and in thae fairy story I heard, it was "the goose that laid the Golden Egg"

johnb said...

One day I will learn to wait until I have finished researching before I post ...

Online Etymology Dictionary -

crock

O.E. crocc, crocca "pot," from P.Gmc. *krogu "pitcher, pot." Crockery is from 1719.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

janes'_kid said...

In the rural Midwestern US a 70 years ago a crock was a useful and valued "an earthenware pot" almost always glazed an off white on the outside and often more earth toned one the inside. Very similar to this crock if my effort to create a link works.

lynneguist said...

Yes, there are lots of meanings of 'crock'--but as ever my focus was aiming to be on the ways that they differ in meaning and use dialectally. The basic meaning of an earthenware vessel (and relatedly, broken earthenware vessels) is common across the dialects. What's changed is the connotations and additional meanings associated with them.

johnb said...

I'm sorry. I got the impression from the excerpt of JHMs question in the original post, that he didn't really recognise crock as another name for a pot. Whereas, in my BrE mind it rarely means anything else.

The other meaning interested me, mainly because I wasn't aware of some of them.

Shefaly Yogendra said...

While on homonyms, how about Kroc (Ray Kroc)? Kroc as a name that started a restaurant that serves crock...? That is my word association, of course what with my work in obesity 8-)

Aviatrix said...

The only ways I would every use the word crock would be "crock of shit" and "crockpot." The latter is an electric cooking pot with a timer that you can leave unattended to slow cook food.

If I had seen "crock of gold" I would think it was being used euphemistically.

Nancy said...

In the late 1970s or early 1980s the California-based Crocker National Bank--it was named for 19th-century railroad magnate Charles Crocker, one of the Big Four the bank, and is most famous perhaps for using the Karen Carpenter song "We've Only Just Begun" in its TV advertising--had a very tall headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles. On the top floor was a restaurant actually named "Top of the Crock." Needless to say, many of us enjoyed a merry laugh. Crocker Bank was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1986.