On a Detectives Beyond Borders post about Paul Cleave's work recently, Kelly Robinson mentioned that "glomming" was a word that she and her colleagues at a bookstore used to describe "obsessively collecting the books of someone you have not yet read". I hadn't heard that use before, and it seems to be a kind of in-house kind of usage. But it did get me wondering a bit about what "glom" means and where it comes from. The phrase I think of most in reference to it is "to glom on to", which in my mind means "to attach to something as if with glue". But what is glom? Is it even a real word?
Okay. To glom is to snatch or steal, to seize or grab, to look or stare at. When you add that "onto", it means to seize upon or to latch onto something. The original word is the Scottish glaum, which probably comes from the Gaelic glam, "to handle awkwardly, grab voraciously, or devour". The word seems to have come into usage in America through underworld slang as glahm, with that same meaning of grabbing or stealing, around 1907.
The Grammarist has an interesting post about the shifting usage of the word. It appears that our contemporary usage has less to do with stealing and more to do with attaching oneself in a non-pejorative way, glomming onto a group, for instance. The Free Dictionary example is: "The country has glommed onto the spectacle of a wizard showman turning the tables on his inquisitors" (Mary McGrory). The Grammarist says that no one knows just why this meaning shifted, but thinks perhaps aural associations to the words "gum" and "glue" may have something to do with it. The old meaning of stealing is now usually limited to "glom" without the "onto".
Glom's relation to vision seems more straightforward, at least to me. After all, who hasn't wanted to steal a look at something at one time or another?
As a final note, I'll just add that glomming seems to have become a common word among booklovers. This blog says the term refers to a reader picking up backlist titles after reading an author's newer works. A variation, but related, I think...