Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Word of the day: Gricer

I am a lover of trains, for which there are several terms in American English. Among them:

1. Rail buff. This denotes a fellow who thrills to the sight of a passing freight train but does not necessarily devote his entire life to the study of flanged wheel on steel rail. I'm one.

2. Railfan. This is a rail buff with a little more topspin, someone who reads Trains magazine and takes vacations on Amtrak.

3. Foamer. Someone whose entire life is trains, trains, trains, who owns at least one engineer's cap, and who froths at the mouth while discussing his hobby.

This morning, on one of the Internet rail-buff forums I visit, a message poster from the United Kingdom allowed as to how he was a "gricer," the British version of a foamer.

Naturally, being a word buff also, I set about hunting up the etymology. It's murky.

One site claims "grice" goes back to the late 1930s and is derived from a successful day of grouse hunting, at the end of which one has a bag of grice, a mock plural for grouse. In other words, gricing is like "trainspotting," another British term for foaming in which one bags, or captures in one's notebook, the roster numbers of as many locomotives as possible. (Maybe a Briton can explain this better than I can.)

Another site locates the roots of "grice" in "G. Rice," the name emblazoned on a grocer's van often borrowed by a gaggle of trainspotters somewhere in the Midlands during the 1970s.

This may be more than you wanted to know about U.K. railroad slang, but if you should one day find yourself on the Flying Scotsman from King's Cross to Edinburgh, you will be able to impress Brits with your arcane knowledge.


  1. My understanding of a Gricer is that the name derives from Sir Nigel Gresley who was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER, see


  2. William Ellis (UK)October 20, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    I've never known where the word 'gricer' comes from, but it is pretty widely used. I've never heard it used specifically to mean a trainspotter, but instead someone who takes a more active approach to rail enthusiasm. I for example am a 'line gricer', my particular vice being trying to tick off all the lines in the country. A by-product of this for me is 'station gricing', about which I am less slavish. I am aware of total maniacs (serious 'foamers' to use your American term) who are 'crossover gricers' or 'buffer kissers' who don't consider they have truly done a line unless they've been over every set of points and right up to the blocks. This makes line gricing far too hard: essentially impossible ever to complete.

    I am also a 'basher', which consists of trying to get as much mileage as possible behind particular classes of (usually) diesel locomotives. Bashers are the titans of UK rail enthusiasts: the kings of the hobby. For many people it's more like a full time job than a pastime. Back in the 1980s bashing was something close to a mass movement, but as the older diesels have been withdrawn and railways have generally become more sanitised, numbers have dwindled and now consist largely of men in their 30s, 40s or 50s; essentially bashers from the Golden Years who haven't grown up. There was also a substantial hooligan element, with certain trains on Summer Saturdays having to carry policemen, and arrests being common, or British Rail having to withdraw certain types of cheap ticket popular with bashers on these days. Not that all bashers bought tickets tho.....

  3. How does my son's (He is a driver on South Eastern Trains) relate to this stream - he calls them Chuffer Nutters and the engines as Kettles?

  4. You might find this appealing:

  5. Gunzel is the term popular in Australia