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From Erick Erickson, "A Concern About Reince Priebus", RedState 1/3/2010:

Back in January of 2009, I raised the concern that Michael Steele was using Blaise Hazelwood to run his campaign for the RNC. The concern related to the willingness and ability of the Republican consultant class to glum on to their preferred RNC Chairman and bilk the GOP of gobs of cash.

The usual spelling is glom (on to), which the OED glosses as "U.S. slang.: trans. To steal; to grab, snatch. Also intr., usu. constr. on to". The earliest citation is from Jack London's The Road in 1907, where it's spelled "glahm":

We‥discovered that our hands were gloved. ‘Where'd ye glahm 'em?’ I asked. ‘Out of an engine-cab,’ he answered.

The OED's earliest example of glom on to is from J. Philips' 1960 Whisper Town:

You think we ought to go out to the school and glom on to that gun?

It's relatively easy to antedate this via Google Books, e.g. in William Patterson White's 1920 Hidden Trails:

It stands to reason, Bill bein' a sensible chunker, that he wouldn't want for that reward to be got by some one less'n he seen he'd no chance to glom on to her himself.

The etymology is given as a "variant of glaum", which is glossed as "Sc.: intr. To snatch at (a thing). Also, to make threatening movements", with citations back to 1715. (Here "Sc." means "Scots" — or maybe "Scottish", I can never keep all those various Caledonian adjectives straight. The OED's list of abbreviations is no help, giving "Scottish, Scots" as the value for "Sc.".)

A variant spelling "glam" for "glaum" is also given. But the spelling "glum" seems to be reserved for forms related to the adjective meaning "Of persons: Sullen, frowning; having an air of dejection or displeasure", or "Of things: Gloomy, dark; dismal".

There are a fair number of other examples of "glum on to" on the web and in published books and magazines. As usual, we don't know whether these are typographical errors, word-substitutions that the authors would recognize as errors, or cases where someone has learned a word with the wrong spelling (and presumably a shifted pronunciation as well).  In the last case, there's also the question of whether this mis-learning would count as an eggcorn, for which Wikipedia gives this account:

In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease". This is as opposed to a malapropism, where the substitution creates a nonsensical phrase. Classical malapropisms generally derive their comic effect from the fault of the user, while eggcorns are errors that exhibit creativity or logic.[1] Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word ("baited breath" for "bated breath").

Glom (or glahm or glaum) is certainly an "unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word", and glum is certain a more common or modern word.  But I don't see any plausible way to get from the standard meaning of glum to something that makes plausible sense out of "glum on to" in Erick Erickson's blog post. Maybe "activation of a sullen, gloomy, and stubborn sense of entitlement (to consulting fees)"? It's a stretch at best.

Glum has some phonaesthetic and lexical-neighborhood resonances with words like  clump, gum, etc. — but this is pretty thin as well.

So I'm inclined to think that if it isn't a typo, this substitution is really just a malapropism. On the other hand, the notion that it might be a spelling error is reinforced by the fact that the cited article originally spelled the last name of [Wisconsin State GOP chairman] "Reince Priebus" five times as "Preibus" — no doubt in conformity to the rule "I before E except after R". (Seriously, if Mr. Priebus becomes the RNC chair, president Obama may have to transcend partisan differences and declare a National Spelling Emergency.)


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    My version of Microsoft Word (Office Word 2007) accepts glom, but WordPress does not (I am seeing a red wavy underline under the word as I am typing), and maybe other word processors don't either. So it could be just a cupertino.

  2. Jon said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    Does "glom on to" not mean "join nominally without contributing anything to"? I have always used it to mean, for example, someone claiming credit for a work project they did not meaningfully labor on, or adding their name to the list of hosts of a party they did not help pay for.

    [(myl) I always took it to mean something like "grab" or "grasp" or maybe "stick", which is more or less what the dictionaries say as well.

    But it's easy to see how the meaning could drift in various directions, including the one you suggest. At least one of the hits in the current Google News index suggests your meaning:

    "Google has nothing to do with this or other such schemes attempting to glom onto their success, a company official told Consumer Ally."

    But all in all, I think this is a case where you've been led astray by the amazing human ability to glom on to the meaning of a word from a small number of examples.]

  3. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Glum? [] on said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    […] Language Log » Glum? – view page – cached From Erick Erickson, "A Concern About Reince Priebus", RedState 1/3/2010: […]

  4. Mary Bull said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    "… the cited article originally spelled the last name of [] 'Reince Priebus' five times as 'Preibus' — no doubt in conformity to the rule 'I before E except after R'. (Seriously, if Mr. Priebus becomes the RNC chair, president Obama may have to transcend partisan differences and declare a National Spelling Emergency.)"
    That's wonderfully put, and it's kept a smile on my face for the last 10 minutes. I love Language Log!

  5. John Cowan said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    The general-purpose adjective is Scottish (cf. the adjective English). In the particular use you quote, however, Sc. almost certainly stands for the noun Scots, meaning the Germanic language of Scotland. Scots as an English adjective is unproductive, and is used only in certain fixed expressions such as Scots law.

    Scotch, though traditionally a shortened form of Scottish, is for whatever reason disapproved of these days, except in an even smaller number of fixed expressions, Scotch whisky and Scotch eggs being the most common. (In America there is also the trademark Scotch tape.)

    Coby: The wavy red lines come from your browser, not WordPress.

  6. Ray Girvan said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    I first ran into "glom" in Doug Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas (1985) where he uses "glom" as a verb to mean accretion of entities together, as in his description of anagram-solving.

    … it feels as if you throw the letters up into the air separately, and when they come down, they have somehow magically "glommed" together in some English-like word!

    [(myl) Yes, there's definitely a "glom together" usage — meaning something like "stick together in a compact mass" or "cause to ditto" — that seems to have escaped the lexicographers, at least in the four dictionaries that I've checked.

    But it's well established in common usage. It may result from taking apart agglomerate. A quick search doesn't turn up any examples of "glom together" earlier than Hofstadter's 1995 book — and a search of the Proquest Historical Newspaper Archive turns up only one use, from Neil Gabler, "I can recall movies, but TV series?" NYT 2002 — which is probably why it's not in the dictionaries yet.]

  7. Megs said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 12:53 pm


    Isn't that SUPPOSED to be "i before e except after c"?

  8. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    I like to keep a copy of Alexander Warrack's Concise Scots Dictionary conveniently to hand for emergencies like this. Glam is "(v) to clutch at; to eat greedily, (n) the hand." Glaum is much the same. There are also variants Glamp, Glamach, etc. The root carries over to Glamour "spell, fascination." It could be an ON root — Icelandic has liggja á glámbekkur (lie on the glám [pron. glaum] bench) for something lying around for anyone to take.

    I have noted before that Warrack is the poster-boy for Whorfianism. I guarantee that on the same page where you look something up, there will be the unique word for some ur-Scottish phenomenon. In this instance it is Glashtroch "continuous rain causing dirty roads."

  9. Ray Dillinger said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    I heard "glom" in (Midwestern US) casual speech as early as 1981. Its meaning as applied to people was to grab or acquire something either accidentally or very, very casually. For examples, "I must have glommed this pen somewhere" or "somebody'll glom onto that that newspaper if you just leave it on the table."

    It was also applied as a verb to inanimate objects like lumps of clay or aggregate groups like magnets that tend to stick together and make larger lumps, or groups. Examples are, "If you roll that clay over the table, it'll glom up all the little clay bits way faster than picking them up one at a time." and "yeah, but it'll also glom all the glitter and bits of string and crud, so I'm doing it by hand."

  10. Aaron Toivo said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    I have always (mis?)understood "glom on to" to mean something like "stick to like glue", so I'm surprised to learn that is not its main meaning. I could just be another victim of random misunderstanding, but it's interesting to speculate on where I might have gotten it…

    The phrase "glom together" is new to me (but not "glom all over", as in "the leeches glommed all over him") so I don't think I've been influenced by that. Instead I wonder if the bl-/gl- phonaestheme may be at fault, as the feel of "glom on to" to me very much has the same bluchhy feel as words like blood/blob/gloop/etc.

  11. Faldone said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    I think glum on to from glom on to is an example of some sort of ablaut series although the grammar still seems a little questionable.

  12. Bob Ladd said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    @John Cowan: Scotch is, as you say, generally disapproved of these days, but it is the normal form for anything indicating the source of stuff to eat or drink, not just fixed phrases. The butcher's shop where I buy my meat sells "Scotch beef", "Scotch lamb", etc. The people who run it certainly wouldn't refer to themselves as anything but "Scottish".

  13. Sue said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    Living in Minnesota since 1973, I've heard glom on to frequently as slang for a casual acquisition. You can also glom on to a person, sticking to them in an obviously fawning manner. And there are definitely glommy people.

  14. Dw said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    Do some people pronounce "glom" with the vowel of STRUT? The misspelling suggests so, although I've only ever heard it with the vowel of LOT.

  15. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    I before E except after…

    I really hate that stupid rule.

    I'm surprised that attested usages of glom reported here are generally so recent. I can't recall ever not being familiar with the word.

    [(myl) Congratulations on being old enough to have had linguistic experiences before 1907!]

  16. Dw said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    @Keith M Ellis:

    Why are you surprised? Were you born before 1907? Or 1920?

  17. Robert Coren said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    Re the distinction between Scots and Scottish: I did not know this. So, am I wrong if I say that Alan Cumming has a Scots accent?

  18. Adrian Bailey (UK) said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

    @Robert Coren
    I for one would find it jarring if you said he had a Scots accent. Scots is a dialect, not an accent.

  19. Peter said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    @Robert Coren: expanding on Adrian Bailey’s explanation, Scots is the dialect; the accent (of a person from Scotland speaking English, or potentially some other language) is Scottish.

  20. Ellen K. said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    It may not be relevant to Scots, since it's close to English, and even closer to Scottish English, but, I would say, that one can speak with the accent of another language. One can speak English with a Spanish language accent. (And if anyone's going to argue that you can subdivide that into Mexican, Argentine, Cuban, etc accents, perhaps, but, even so, those are subgroupings of a general way of speaking English that Spanish language speakers have.)

  21. Licia said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    @ Coby Lubliner, maybe Word recognizes glom because it’s the verb Windows developers use to describe the grouping of similar items as a single button (the glom) on the Windows taskbar. You can find a couple of examples here (scroll down to the bullet points).

  22. Des said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    I was wondering why I was seeing glom disproportionally in fandom, so I ran Google over and It was mostly usage already discussed (once I glom onto a poem I use it for everything) but the latter turned up a lot of Blue Bloods vampric mind control stories.

    Nothing really new to add, but I thought I should share the horror.

  23. Rubrick said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

    @myl:"But it's well established in common usage. It may result from taking apart agglomerate."

    This suggestion intrigues me (I was in the "I thought it only meant 'stick to, as a small mass onto a larger' camp). Perhaps the two senses of glom do actually have different derivations.

    (Incidentally, you misgave the date of Metamagical Themas as 1995, rather than 1985, later in the same comment.)

    [(myl) Actually I was referring to a different book, published in 1995. Google Books search doesn't find the alleged usage in Metamagical Themas, so I'm remaining agnostic about whether it's there.]

  24. Nathan McCoy said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 1:06 am

    I'd always understood "glom" in the sense of "attach blobbily", and inferred a relation to or derivation from agglomerate.

  25. baylink said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 1:19 am

    New England 16yrs, Florida 29; glom onto in Mark's sense; mostly fiction but occasionally conversation; no variants in meaning or pronunciation.

  26. Jon said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 2:58 am

    The discussion about what the OED means by 'Sc' in this context raises the question of why on earth an online edition of a dictionary uses abbreviations at all. For a paper edition, it is to save space, but that is not applicable online. Making users hunt for the page that explains the meaning of an abbreviation seems plain daft to me. I submitted a comment to that effect to the OED a while ago, but without reply.

  27. Jon said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 3:11 am

    ….(my comment to OED was more measured than the above).

  28. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 3:31 am

    This, from my maternal grandmother (Kansas to LA to NY) in the early 1940s while I was in the throes of some childhood funk, – "Why so glum little man? Why don't you glom onto some happiness!" – accompanied by a soft knuckle chuck under the chin and an emphatically clear distinction in meaning.

  29. Greg Bowen said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 3:52 am

    I'm one more who's always used and understood "glom" to mean "attach to." The "snatch/steal" meaning is entirely new to me, and I'm surprised to find the definition I have for it so poorly represented in dictionaries.

  30. Ray Girvan said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 7:50 am

    @ myl: Google Books search doesn't find the alleged usage in Metamagical Themas, so I'm remaining agnostic about whether it's there.

    Mark, you ought to know me well enough now to know I wouldn't give you a dodgy reference. The quote is from my paper copy, the 1987 Penguin Books reprint of the 1985 Basic Books edition. The Google metadata is wrong (again): Google Books says the Basic Books edition was 1996: but it was actually 1985 (see internal search / copyright page at

    [(myl) I was relying on search in this version, which purports to be the 1985 Basic Books edition. So apparently in this case the problem is with the indexing rather than the metadata — unless your 1987 reprint includes an extra column or two…]

  31. Ray Girvan said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    PS Ah, I see what the problem is. You couldn't find it because Hofstadter doesn't use the prase "glom together"; he only uses it in the past tense "glommed together".

    [(myl) Oops. Careless on my part… Apologies.

    Re-doing the search that way allows us to antedate glom together to 1970, 1975, etc..]

  32. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    re: glom / glum

    In contrast to Grandma Bianca’s cheerful encouragement that I “glom” onto some happiness, (@3:31 a.m. above) my mother’s use of the word always carried an extremely negative connotation.

    There were a lot of sadly prejudicial opinions slung around my childhood dining-room table as three generations verbally duked it out over early 1940s issues. Mother’s disparaging usage would most often occur during the course of some social/political/religious rant about the Unions/Democrats/Jews/Catholics, etc., and would always imply that someone was about to “glom” onto something, as if engaged in a nefarious act of surreptitious acquisition or control.

    If my contrastingly quiet Grandpa Floyd had been emotionally brazen enough to wink between bites of his homemade rhubarb pie without getting caught out by his ravenously judgmental daughter, he would have slyly done so in the direction of my raptly astonished five-year-old face.
    Fortunately, I was eventually able to escape all this bombastic nonsense with a statistically normal-sized amygdala and only upon occasional reflection do I now feel a tinge “glum” about it all.

  33. Peter said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    Strange, "glom on to" always had a "hang on to [coattails]" connotation to me that fits more with the "sticky" meaning than the "stealing" meaning (though technically to hang on someone's coattail would be closer to stealing).

    (Incidentally, which is the more "correct" coattails-related saying, "hang" or "ride"?)

  34. Diane said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    I am one more person who thought the primary meaning of "glom on" to mean to stick onto something. I had never heard the "steal" meaning before this blog post.

  35. Diane said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    Er, please ignore the grammatical weirdness of my posting above. Mistakes introduced during editing.

  36. John Cowan said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

    Dan Lufkin: Does Warrack really say that glamour is related to glam/glaum? The usual etymology, as well as the older usage, is given by the Scottish National Dictionary as a variant form of grammar, and it refers us to archaic English gramarye (once 'grammar' but now 'witchcraft') and French and English grimoire 'book of sorcery' as related words. The OED confirms this story. It was apparently Scott who got both glamour and gramarye into modern English, although at Cambridge there was once a Master of Glomerye, whose business it was to teach Latin grammar to the younger scholars.

    Robert Coren: One could defend Scots accent as a noun-noun compound, but it's definitely a minority usage. I can't think of any other case in English where the name of a language doesn't double as the adjective-of-all-work for people who speak that language, so the question mostly doesn't come up; Ellen K.'s example of Spanish accent is legitimate, but it's likely that Spanish is the adjective here, not the noun.

  37. Ellen K. said,

    January 4, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

    John Cowan, you seem to have misunderstood me. I'm not talking about the phrase "Spanish accent" and what it means. I certainly wouldn't talk of a "Spanish accent" for someone not from Spain. I'm saying there's a way of speaking English that's associated with one's native language being Spanish. Thus, it seems to me, one can talk of an accent associated with a language. So, that something is a dialect or language doesn't not mean that one can't have an accent associated with it, when speaking a different dialect/language. Or so it seems to me.

  38. Ray Dillinger said,

    January 6, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    I have always identified a [language] accent as speaking one language using the sound inventory and/or phonological constraints of another.

    When someone speaks English using the five or so Spanish pure vowels, and inserting a vowel sound before English words with word-initial 's' (which satisfies a Spanish phonological constraint), I identify that person as speaking with a Spanish accent. I could be wrong, of course; other languages have the same vowel inventory and phonological constraint, and the accent I hear as Spanish could be, e.g., Catalan. Likewise when someone speaks French substituting English unrounded vowels for the rounded vowels which don't occur in English and using English back vowels which don't occur in the dominant dialect of French, and making other substitutions of English consonants for non-English consonants such as [z] for [zh], I identify them as speaking French with an English accent.

    It's interesting that different people master phonology/phonotactics, vocabulary, and grammar/syntax all at different rates. It suggests that the mastery of these things is subject to several different and surprisingly uncorrelated aptitudes.

  39. bloix said,

    January 7, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

    Why do you conclude that glahm (alt sp glom), meaning to steal, is the same word as glom, meaning to stick to? They seem like unrelated words to me.

    [(myl) The OED sez it doesn't mean "steal", it means "steal, grab, snatch". There are lots of uses where the grabbing is not in any way unlawful or illegitimate, especially in the form "glom on to". In fact, in many of these, the "grabbing" is entirely a matter of adhesiveness, without even an active intent to grasp. The "glom together" usage seems like a natural development along those lines.

    But in such cases, it's hard to tell the difference between a new sense, especially one associated with a different syntactic frame, and a new word. It's harder here because of the possible influence of agglomerate and related Latinate words.]

  40. John Cowan said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 2:24 am

    Ellen K:

    I certainly wouldn't talk of a "Spanish accent" for someone not from Spain.

    I would, though: my city is full of people who speak Spanish, and speak English with Spanish accents, but few of them are from Spain.

  41. anon nerd said,

    January 17, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    I had only heard of glom in the sense of stalking, especial a group of nerdy boys trailing after one girl.

    As in: "She got glommed. She's always in the middle of a circle of boys."

    Probably in usage only at Caltech.

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