Fifty Shades of Gray Water

I have a lazy request. Can someone with Oxford English Dictionary access please look up “greywater” a.k.a. “gray water” and/or “grey water?” I have nostalgia, for both the sake of creativity and personal sloppiness, for the pre-19th century era of DIY spelling, grammar and free flowing neologisms. Unfortunately we live in a more homogeneous and standardized world and I wince every time I have to write about the subject of reusing waste water for lack of clarity on how to spell greywater, gray water, grey water and/or graywater. I’d also like to see what the OED says about the first uses of the word.

Merriam Webster suggests “gray water” not “grey water” or “greywater.” Wikipedia goes with “greywater” as well as listing off all the variations. Wikipedia also suggests a word so unappealing that it’s almost appealing, “sullage.” Sullage, according to Merriam Webster, is “probably from Anglo-French *sollage, *suillage, from suiller, soiller to soil.” While I like the link with soil, “sullage” appears to be used interchangeably with “sewage.”

There is, of course the confusing problem of “gray” vs. “grey” with “gray” being more common in American English. “Greywater” is used by two out of the three American experts: Brad Lancaster and Greywater Action (the artists formerly known as the Guerrilla Graywater Girls). Art Ludwig rolls with “grey water.”

As for our competition to swap out the unappetizing “greywater” for a sexier new word, Root Simple reader Johnny (who has a terrific blog you should read called Granola Shotgun) suggests “H2Over” or “Rewater.” I’m going to go with “Rewater.” At least it would eliminate the grey vs. gray and one word vs. two word problem. Plus it dispenses with the puritanical association of gr***water with waste water.

Let us hope that “rewater” catches on and that the new Fifty Shades Freed movie (which goes with “grey” due to the British origin of this great work of literature) has a three way valve scene.

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  1. Have you checked your local library’s website? Where I live, I can access the OED by signing into my library account and going to the references page. Here you go:

    “grey water
    n. domestic waste water other than that from toilets, esp. considered as sufficiently lightly polluted to be suitable for recycling or reuse; cf. black water n. 1c.

    1970 Pop. Sci. Aug. 99/1 The gray water from your home is comparatively harmless, needs little treatment, and can often be used for industrial purposes or for irrigation.

    1992 Harrowsmith Oct. 106 Another system gathers and purifies rainwater, then recycles the greywater and converts solid waste into compost for the rooftop greenhouse.

    2007 Wired Jan. 114/4 Wastewater from the process flows to a cistern, where it mixes with collected storm water and runoff. The resulting gray water is used for landscaping.”

  2. We live in a new development (2012) in SCV, so I can’t imagine much I can do as far as re-piping for greywater, but I’ve pretty much retired my dishwasher, opting instead to airdrying plates… I did the whole bucket of greywater for awhile but the kitchen set-up is just not conducive to hauling buckets of greywater one at a time.

    We’re moving to another nearby newer development soon, and will definitely incorporate Lloyd’s home designs/hacks , I plan to have just a sink in the kitchen for washing hands (no more dishwasher), but the actual kitchen will be located outside,

    as patio/bbq set-up still in keeping with suburban norms (will in the future do most of my cooking out door here, also dish washing ). So the outside set up will be more geared for greywater use, I notice pomegranates love it here also.

    Are you familiar with this website, I believe San Joaquin basin is where much of SCV’s water comes from , while LA would probably be Eastern Sierra (so in the site probably chose Northern Sierra), but you can compare/contrast years of snow levels. Very interesting.

    How’s the Go playing going?

  3. A word of caution here. The water from the kitchen sink and dishwasher may be considered black water by your local authorities because of the high biological content of the food scraps in it. Probably an overreaction but, in the worst case, they have to consider people who are thoughtless enough to use a garbage disposal unit to sent a concentrated slurry of high quality rat food into the system.

  4. My 1971 OED (compact edition with four micro pages on each sheet, read with accompanying magnifying glass) has nothing for grey water or greywater, and notes, for Gray, see Grey.

  5. Librarian Word Dork here, happy to help. I have online access to the OED so this should be the most up-to-date info as possible. Searching greywater, graywater, grey water, and gray water–all search terms land the user on the exact same entry. The entry for “grey water.” I have a screenshot I’ll send along via FB. I hope that helps.

    I would add that I don’t see what the big deal is so much myself, but I am (like you, I think) in the camp of letting language evolve and change with the times, allowing for a bit of creativity, too. (Faulkner and his fantastical non-technically accurate compound words in Light in August set me free there.) So, I try not to be pedantic about it. Of course, that isn’t the case for all and precision of language is important, to a point.

  6. I’d go with Brad. Plus, it’s the preferred spelling of Greywater Action and the Greywater Guerrillas.

  7. Pingback: Gray Miscellany | Root Simple

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