19 May 2011


From the novel "Free Air" (1919) by Sinclair Lewis:
The Sagebrush Tourists made camp; covered the hood with a quilt from which the cotton was oozing; brought out the wash-boiler, did a washing, had dinner, sang about the fire; granther and the youngest baby gamboling together, while the limousinvalids, insulated from life by plate glass, preserved by their steady forty an hour from the commonness of seeing anything along the road, looked out at the campers for a second, sniffed, rolled on, wearily wondering whether they would find a good hotel that night - and why the deuce they hadn't come by train. (p. 120)
"Free Air" was written by Sinclair Lewis shortly before he gained fame with Main Street, Babbit, and Arrowsmith.  I'm about halfway through, and it won't make my recommended books category, but it's a charming enough story about a cross-country road trip at the dawn of the automobile era.  I wanted to highlight this one word - "granther."

From the context, it seems to be a contraction of "gran(dfa)ther" or "gran(dmo)ther," but it's not listed in my Random House (or OED) dictionaries.  The Urban Dictionary lists  two quite different modern uses:
  • A man who seeks sexual or romantic relationships with significantly older women.
  • A man in his late 50s or older that has grandkids... He also frequents local establishments looking for women his kids age, or even younger...
A Google search shows some usage of the word as a proper first name, but I can't track down much other information.  Since Lewis used another seemingly portmanteau word - limousinvalid - in the same paragraph to express his obvious contempt for the upper class, I'm reasonably confident that "granther" was similarly constructed as a slang word of the era, though it's not in the Online Slang Dictionary.  Perhaps it was a regional term.

Any suggestions?


  1. This is a favorite of mine and I actually own a first edition. As for the definition I have no idea, but would think of the two offered the former is more likely than the latter.

  2. Stephen King used 'granther' to mean 'grandfather' in a not-creepy way in his book, _Firestarter_. It may be a New Englandism. It appears to me to be what you'd hear when a very young child tries to lisp, 'Grandfather'.

  3. In this story of the Will'o Wisp or Granther Willow's Lantern, Granther is another name for Grandfather.

  4. I live in the "Limousin" and that word "limousinvalid" made me laugh.
    The Limousin people are entrenched in the "A hidden life is a happy life." thing.
    They really can be invalid as the old folks will often refuse to accept what is in front of their nose and will quite happily deny that something happened if they don't understand it.
    However this is one of the few areas that the Romans failed to colonise as the rivers got too small so it became a holiday destination instead.

  5. On second reading; the author is using Limousinvalids to refer to the occupants of the automobile.


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