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Re: Excellent. A bit more

Posted by James Briggs on November 25, 2002

In Reply to: Excellent posted by Word Camel on November 24, 2002

: : : I came across this term today in an article I was reading from a British news paper.

: : : "This gave busybodies, voyeurs and the downright nasty ample opportunity to grass up their neighbours for no other reason than that they felt like it."

: : : I know the term from my time in the UK, but I wondered if anyone has any insight where it comes from. It seems to be a British term since this definition doesn't appear in American dictionaries I've looked in. Why "grass"?

: : : Curiously,

: : : Camel

: : GRASS - to squeal or inform. "This word is derived from Cockney rhyming slang 'grasshopper,' meaning 'copper,' i.e., 'policeman.' 'Grass' sometimes appears as a noun, meaning both 'informer' or 'stool pigeon' and the 'act of informing' itself. It has shown up in the new form 'supergrass,' describing an I.R.A. member who turns 'queen's evidence' and names his former comrades." From "British English from A to Zed" by Norman Schur (FirstHarperPerennial edition, 1991).

:
: Thanks! I suspected there might be rhyming slang involved.

There are other possible explanations.
For the non-English native speakers, to 'grass on someone' means to inform some higher authority about possible misdemeanours. The origin here is far from clear but I have found two possibilities. The first relates to the fact that this type of informing is often done in a whisper. In the 1940s the singing group the "Ink Spots" had a world wide hit with the song "Whispering Grass". By extension whispering became known as grassing.
The other explanation relates to London slang starting with 'to shop' someone, derived from the concept of the Coppers' shop. Someone who habitually informed to the police became a shopper and rhyming slang produced a grasshopper which was then shortened to grass. You can take your choice. It's not mentioned in my 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

See also: The meaning and origin of 'grass up'.