Arg, it’s ugly. Could it be the love child of Anu Garg and Olive Oyl? Perhaps not, but it certainly gurgles in your gorge grotesquely. But it will not gorgonize you: it is the gargoyle itself that has turned to stone – or always was! We all know what this word’s ugly referents are: those stone heads on Gothic buildings, representing demons, goblins, gremlins, and assorted other gnarly lugs. Does the name come from the ugliness of the g sounds? From the throatiness, rather. The Germanic and Romance languages have a variety of words in the garg, gurg, and gorg line that relate to the throat – unsurprisingly! The word gargoyle came from was Old French gargouille, “throat.” So, OK, throat? Yes, because gargoyles are water spouts. You have a roof. It gets rained on. You need to drain water off it, and you don’t want it just hitting the ground all around, so you drain it into gutters and they drain into spouts that pour the water out and away from the building. And before the advent of modernism, the idea was that things should be, you know, ornamented. Public fountains were built with water coming out of mouths and assorted other physiognomic orifices; why shouldn’t great public buildings also drain water through amusing or shocking heads? Well, at least until the early 18th century, when cities started requiring buildings to have downspouts that carried the water all the way to the ground rather than just gargling it down from great heights.
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