People have often punned about Grimm's fairy tales being very grim. For example, TV Tropes has the trope Grimmification about tales being made more grim. (The Brothers Grimm didn't engage in Grimmification - they didn't need to. In fact, they Disneyfied.)

Are the two words "grim" and "Grimm" etymologically related?

The English edition of Wiktionary does not have an entry for "Grimm", nor does the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Wiktionary states that grim came from Old English, which came from Germanic. And Grimm is used as a surname in Germany.

Grimm has an entry in the German Wiktionary, but even with Google translate I can't tell if it's talking about a name, a noun, or both.

One person I talked to about this said that "Grimm" meant "hooded", which would explain "The Grim Reaper" (apart from it only have one "m"). Is that true?

  • If you think the Grimms Disneyfied, you've probably been reading Disneyfied Grimm. Their actual stories are pretty -- well, grim. – user32047 Dec 31 '12 at 1:04
  • @gmcgath TV Tropes' Disneyfication page actually states that the Brothers Grimm Disneyfied. – Andrew Grimm Dec 31 '12 at 2:45
  • I wasn't disputing that such a claim exists on the Web, only that it's true. – user32047 Dec 31 '12 at 14:10
  • So, like, it's a coincidence? ;-) – user66389 Feb 19 '14 at 16:57
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    The Grimm brothers traveled pretty extensively collecting the folk tales now known as fairy tales (in English) or Märchen (in German). They published them for an adult audience, and later after finding out how popular they were among children later decided to republish them because, in their opinion they weren't suitable for children. Their second and subsequent publications were all "Disney-fied", relatively speaking,and the versions we now know as the Grimm fairy tales are from their later printings. The true originals were actually still scarier and more gruesome. – StormeHawke Feb 2 '15 at 0:40

It is clear that Old English grimm is cognate with Ger grimm(ig); Koebler Althochdeutscheswörterbuch) refers this to Pokorny (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary) 458, where it is derived from PIE root *ghrem-2, “heavy sound, thunder, grumble”.

However, Koebler also notes a similar word, grimo, “helmet, mask”, which I imagine is what your informant who suggested “hooded” was referring to; it’s cognate with OE and Icelandic grima, from which Tolkien took the name of the evil counsellor Grima Wormtongue. Pokorny 457 derives these from PIE root *ghrēi-, *ghrəi-, *ghrī-, *ghrei-, “smear”, from which he also derives Middle Low German grimet, “black-streaked”, and grēme “smut”, which appear to be cognate with English grime.

Both roots were used in mediaeval personal names. Genealogical sites derive the modern surname variously from both; but they do not cite authorities and may safely be ignored.

Unless an authority can be found which definitively traces the Brothers' surname, I think the verdict must be Not Proven.


Well, we once spelled grim with two m’s in English, as grimm. The OED gives the etymology of grim as:

OE. grim(m) = OFris. grim, OS. grim (Dutch grim), OHG. and MHG. grim (G. grimm), ONor. grimmr (Sw. grym harsh, Da. grim ugly). Ormin employs a disyllabic form grimme, corresponding to OHG. grimmi, MHG. grimme. The OTeut. root *grem- is an ablaut-variant of *gram-; see grame a.

So it would seem the same word.

What I find fascinating is the hidden gem that grim is ultimately an ablaut variant of a gram- word, which makes me think of grammar and linguistics, which makes me think of Grimm’s Law.

  • Makes me think of grimoire. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 31 '12 at 1:04
  • @KitFox And then to glamours, perhaps. – tchrist Dec 31 '12 at 1:06
  • What's a "gram-word"? – Andrew Grimm Dec 31 '12 at 2:46
  • Grammar is from Greek graphô "write", as you well known. Dutch gram means "wrath". – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 31 '12 at 4:37
  • Alas, Pokorny derives graph- and gramma- from PIE *gherebh-, "scratch, write". – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 31 '12 at 4:38

The noun "Grimm" in German means "fury," which suggests a connection though there's been a drift in meaning in one language or both. If "grimm" means hooded in any language, it isn't German.

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    There is an obsolete noun grim in English which per the OED means “Grimness, fury, rage.” – tchrist Dec 31 '12 at 1:07

They both come from the same PIE root, according to the AHD of PIE Roots.

*gʰrem- Angry.
1a. grim, from OE grimm 'fierce, severe'
1b. grimace, from OF
(Both a and b from Gmc *grimma)
2. grumble, from Gmc *grum
3. pogrom, from Russian grom 'thunder'

As gmcgath has pointed out, Grimm means 'fury' in German, so -- insofar as proper names can have meanings, it pretty much has to come from this root too.

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