Schoolmasters as a class are extremely groovy.
You don’t say!
That’s what it says in the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which plucked that quote from an article published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1896.
Wow, “groovy” was in use that long ago?
I thought “groovy” was what baby boomers said when they meant “awesome”. Like Simon and Garfunkel here at the end of this post, singing Feelin’ Groovy.
Well, “groovy” predates the boomers and meant something completely different earlier.
When Blackwood’s called schoolmasters “groovy”, “groovy” meant “settled in habit”, “limited in mind”.
That’s according to OED, which says “groovy” came from “groove”, which was often used in a depreciatory sense, as another word for “a narrow, limited, undeviating course; a ‘rut’”.
That, however, was a secondary meaning. The primary meaning of “groovy”, according to the OED, was “of or pertaining to a groove” or “resembling a groove”. It then quotes this quaint example from the New Statesman in 1966: “The flat tops..are richly textured to resemble pieces of groovy mud.”
“Groovy mud”?! It boggles the mind.
So how did “groovy” come to mean “cool” or “awesome”?
The Word Detective says:
The emergence of “groovy” in the 1960s was actually a sort of reincarnation of the word, which had first appeared in the jazz subculture of the 1930s and was originally spelled “groovey” (“‘Groovey,’ name applied to state of mind which is conducive to good playing,” American Speech, 1937). “Groovey” itself was based on the phrase “in the groove,” used by jazz musicians to describe playing that was smooth and effortlessly excellent.
That’s the third meaning of “groovy” listed in the OED: “Playing, or capable of playing, jazz or similar music brilliantly or easily; ‘swinging’; appreciative of such music, ‘hep’, sophisticated; hence as a general term of commendation: excellent, very good.”
The OED gives the following examples from popular magazines before the 1960s:
1948 Cosmopolitan Dec. 163/1 ‘I pitched a no-hit game last summer,’ said Georgie. ‘Hey, groovy,’ said Sally.
1958 Spectator 11 July 67/2 That was a good record..cool and groovy.
The use of the word “groovy” picked up in the mid 1960s, as we can see in this Google Books N-Gram Viewer, peaked in the early 1970s, and picked up a bit again after 1995 though never reaching the previous high.
What accounts for the “groovy” rebound? Boomer memoirs?
All through, however, as we can see in the chart, “awesome” has been far more widely used than “groovy”.
The reason? Simple. “Awesome” has so many different meanings.
The OED gives the following meanings and examples:
1. Full of awe, profoundly reverential.
1815 Scott Guy Mannering I. xi. 185 He did gie an awesome glance up at the auld castle.
2. Inspiring awe; appalling, dreadful, weird.
1816 Scott Antiquary II. x*. 286 It’s awsome to hear your gudemither break out in that gait.
1870 W. Morris Earthly Paradise I. i. 256 Together did the awesome sisters cry.
3 (a) In weakened sense: overwhelming, staggering; remarkable, prodigious. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
1961 McCall’s Aug. 173/1 He looked up to see Mrs. Kirby, awesome in a black-and-yellow polka-dotted slicker, bearing down on him.
3 (b) In trivial use, as an enthusiastic term of commendation: ‘marvellous’, ‘great’; stunning, mind-boggling. slang.
1983 New Yorker 19 Dec. 55 (caption) Third grade? Third grade is awesome.
“Awesome” is awesome but did the word ever inspire a song to beat the 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel?
Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
Ba da, Ba da, Ba da, Ba da…Feelin’ Groovy.
What cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’.
Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me?
I’ve got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you,
All is groovy.