I came across the word grubstake in a book I’m reading at the moment and it caught my attention because I haven’t seen it before. It appears in the following context:

“From the moment I first arrived back in New York, my father has wanted me to leave the city. He would be happy to grubstake my move to greener pastures.”

From this I can guess that grubstaking probably involves providing financial support, though without the context one might guess that it might be a kind of food.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grubstake means:

1 : supplies or funds furnished a mining prospector on promise of a share in his discoveries
2 : material assistance (as a loan) provided for launching an enterprise or for a person in difficult circumstances

The American Heritage Dictionary provides the following definition:

1. noun Supplies or funds advanced to a mining prospector or a person starting a business in return for a promised share of the profits.
2. transitive verb To supply with funds in return for a promised share of profits.

The site Take Our Word For It defines a grubstake as

“a supply of food (grub) which a wealthy investor would provide a gold prospector in exchange for a share (stake) in whatever gold might be found.”

It was probably coined during the California gold rush of 1849 and first appeared in writing in 1863.

Grub has been as a slang word for food since at least 1650 and is still used in this way in the UK. Is it used in other Anglophone countries?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to Grubstake

  1. d.m.falk says:

    It is used extensively in the US, particularly in rural/rustic regions, and regions heavily influenced by a rural or rustic culture, like much of the South, Midwest and essentially the entire western half of the US, especially around “cowboy” or ranching communities. Even in the 21st Century, the flavour of the Old West, including some of the terminology, never dies. 🙂

    (in northwestern California, where many families came from the Ozarks in the great “Dust Bowl” migration…)

  2. James C. says:

    Still heard in Alaska and Yukon Territory, even used as a slogan or brand name for some companies e.g. “Grubstake Realty”. Alaskan English and Yukon English also preserve quite a few other terms from the Gold Rush era, like sourdough referring to a seasoned and experienced individual, cheechako for a newcomer (from Chinook Jargon), “colder than a welldigger’s ass in the Klondike”, cabin fever, cache, etc.

  3. Petréa Mitchell says:

    My mother collects mystery novels, and I remember seeing some on the shelves when I was a kid that were about a group called the “Grub-and-Stakers”. I think they were a gardening club. The name stuck in my head because it was so unusual.

    It doesn’t look like there’s much information about them online, but here’s the Amazon (US) page on the series.

  4. Polly says:

    Are you kidding. Have you not heard the traditional dinner table grace, especially popular with adolescents:

    “Rub a dub dub
    Thanks for the GRUB
    Yaaay God.”

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