‘Glamour’ was originally a Scottish alteration of ‘grammar’.

‘Glamour’ was originally a Scottish alteration of ‘grammar’: this article explains how it came to denote an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing.



Glamour Baby - Jackie Watson - The People (London) - 27 August 1939

Jackie Watson, “Glamour Baby” of Alfred Esdaile’s new autumn revues, “Folies de Minuit” and “Revue d’Elegance,” at the London Casino, for which Gordon Courtney has specially written the lyrics and music.

from The People (London) – 27th August 1939



Classical Greek γραμματική (= grammatikḗ) and classical Latin grammătĭca denoted the methodical study of literature, that is to say, philology in the widest modern sense, including textual and aesthetic criticism, investigation of literary history and antiquities, explanation of allusions, etc., besides the study of the Greek and Latin languages. Post-classically, grammătĭca came to be restricted to the linguistic portion of this discipline, and eventually to grammar in the modern sense. In the Middle Ages, grammătĭca and its Romance forms chiefly meant the knowledge or study of Latin, and were therefore often used as synonymous with learning in general, the knowledge peculiar to the learned class. As this was popularly supposed to include magic and astrology, the Old-French word gramaire was sometimes used as a name for these occult sciences. In these applications, it has survived in two altered forms: French grimoire and English glamour.

The Old-French word gramaire, therefore, meaning both the study of language and (a book of) magic spells, gave rise in Modern French a doublet: grammaire, meaning grammar, and grimoire, meaning a book of magic spells (gramaire was altered to grimoire under the influence of grimace and related words). The noun grimoire was borrowed into English in the mid-19th century.

(Examples of doublets in English are turbantulip, clockcloak, fawnfetus, lobsterlocust and pastichepastis.)

Similarly, the obsolete English noun gramarye meant occult learning, magic, necromancy, as well as grammar, learning in general.

The word glamour was originally a Scottish alteration of grammar. It appeared in Scottish literature in the early 18th century in the sense of magic, enchantment, spell, especially in the phrase to cast (the) glamour over someone, or over someone’s eyes; in his satirical poem The Rise and Fall of Stocks, 1720. An Epistle to the Right Honourable my Lord Ramsay, now in Paris (Edinburgh, 1721), the Scottish poet Allan Ramsay (1684-1758) wrote:

Like Belzie [= Beelzebub] when he nicks a Witch,
Wha sells her Saul she may be rich;
He finding this the Bait to damn her,
Casts o’er her Een his cheating Glamour;
She signs and seals, and he affords
Her Heaps of visionary Hoords.
But when she comes to count the Cunzie [= coin],
’Tis a’ Sklate-stanes instead of Money.

The glossary appended to the book indicates:

– Cunzie, or Coonie, Coin.
Glamour, Jugling. When Devils, Wizards, or Juglers deceive the Sight, they are said to cast Glamour o’er the Eyes of the Spectator.
– Sklate, Slate.

This is the beginning of Gypsie Laddie, from the second volume of Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, etc. (Edinburgh, 1776):

The gypsies came to our good lord’s gate,
And wow but they sang sweetly;
They sang sae sweet, and sae very complete,
That down came the fair lady.

And she came tripping down the stair,
And a’ her maids before her;
As soon as they saw her well-far’d face,
They coost the glamer o’er her.

A similar phonetic change explains the obsolete word glomery in Master of Glomery, corresponding to Latin Magister Glomeriæ. It was the title of an official formerly recognised by the University of Cambridge, apparently the head of the grammar-school or schools. In The University of Cambridge from the earliest times to the royal injunctions of 1535 (Cambridge University Press, 1873), James Bass Mullinger (1834-1917) explained:

It is to be remembered that at a time when the Latin tongue was the medium of communication between most educated men, the vehicle of pulpit oratory and of formal instruction, the language of nearly all recognised literature, a knowledge of it was as essential to a student entering upon a prescribed course of academic study, as would be the ability to read and write his mother tongue in the present day. Though therefore the term grammatica, as the first stage of the Trivium, denoted an acquaintance with the Latin language generally, it was customary in the earliest times to delegate to a non-academic functionary the instruction of youth in the elements of the language. Such, if we adopt the best supported conjecture, was the function of the Magister Glomeriæ, an officer whose duties have been the subject of considerable controversy among those who have occupied themselves with the antiquities of our university.

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