Grisly - grizzly

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Grisly and grizzly sound exactly the same. Do not confuse them: they have different meanings. (They are commonly confused in newspapers.)

  • Grizzly is perhaps the commoner these days. It is the name of a North American bear, of great ferocity. The grizzly, more formally the grizzly bear (most formally Ursus horribilis), is an animal to be respected and treated with caution. It eats many things, and is often to be seen in wildlife programmes catching salmon. It is big enough to kill full-grown moose - and men. (Originally - before the North American bear was known - the word was another form of grizzled ~ 'grey', usually 'grey-haired'.)
  • Grisly on the other hand means 'in some way repulsive': 'causing horror or fear'; 'ugly'; or 'full of fear'. According to OED, it is now archaic or literary - and therefore should be avoided in academic English.

There is also a word gristly, which means 'full of gristle'. Gristle is the substance found in badly prepared meat which is softer than bone - but very hard to chew.

In the last century - and before - it was distressingly common in institutional catering. Indeed, at my school in the 1950s, it was said that we got more gristle than meat in our stew. AND IT WAS TRUE! Schoolchildren these days don't know they're born... grumble, grumble... etc, etc.