Maybe you’re engrossed in a good book, or a film, or perhaps simply an interesting conversation.

Whatever it is, it’s something that’s got our full attention.

I’d say that it’s a great feeling to be engrossed in something, but I suppose the main idea of being engrossed in something is that you’re not aware of how you’re feeling. You’re captivated by something, caught up in it. Which is generally a good thing. Isn’t a little strange then that the word sounds so… gross.

Despite their obvious differences in meaning, there is a link between engrossed and gross. Both are derived from the Old French word gros, which could mean big, thick, fat; tall; strong, powerful; pregnant; coarse, rude, awkward; ominous, important; or arrogant (the word’s still used in modern French with similar meanings). Quite a range of meanings there, though there are two general senses common to many of them: largeness, and unpleasantness. It’s an interesting contrast to great, which also meant big, but came to have mainly positive connotations.

I suppose it’s understandable that we have two words that generally mean big, but with very different sets of connotations. Often in life, something being big is a very positive experience. Like a big pile of money. Sometimes, it’s not so good. Like a bear, or a stain on your shirt.

Of course, gross isn’t always negative. The meaning branched somewhat, seemingly around the 16th century. From the meaning of coarse or rough, it took on a lot of generally negative meanings. From the sense of big, it came to mean whole, or without deductions, as in terms like gross national product or gross salary. This is where engrossed comes back into the equation: it means giving something your full attention.

And gross? It was first recorded in 1958 and comes from using grossly as a general intensfier before adjectives, e.g. grossly incompetent, which got shortened to gross, and soon came to simply mean disgusting.

So in case you were worried, there’s nothing gross about being engrossed in something, and people were getting engrossed long before they were getting grossed out!

9 thoughts on “Engrossed

  1. I admire your ability to pick out the most challenging words from the dictionary as subjects for your articles. These are all words we all use so frequently, yet don’t stop to think about…I have probably complimented you on this earlier too! 🙂 Have a good day ahead Niall…looking forward to more posts from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This doesn’t quite seem to explain why a person who is lost in a book, film or whatever is said to be engrossed. Does it mean kind of sucked in, to something larger, so that you become part of it, for a while? I recall typing up legal documents and the final, posh version for signature by the client was the Engrossment, presumably having swallowed up or incorporated all the Drafts leading up to it?

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    • That’s interesting, I’ve never come across that word before, but it makes sense that that’s what it means.
      I think originally there was a slight distinction between “engrossed” and similar words like “enthralled” and “captivated.”
      “Engrossed” originally meant giving your full attention to something, hence the “gross” part, whereas the other two words focused more on getting caught up in something so much that it captures you. Even though the focus of the words is slightly different, they could often still be used in the same context, and “engrossed” gradually became synonymous with the others.

      Liked by 1 person

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