Repeat After Us: Pub. Grub.

We’ve been researching 1990s gastropubs this week which prompted a side question: when did the phrase ‘pub grub’ come into common use?

There are a few examples of similar turns of phrase, such as this from 1924…

Burnley News, 05/05/1924, via The British Newspaper Archive.
Burnley News, 05/05/1924, via The British Newspaper Archive.

…and the Peacock Hotel, Bedford, called itself ‘The Pub for Grub’ in advertising in the 1930s (e.g. Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 05/11/1937.) It’s kind of an obvious rhyme, really, and, as ‘pub’ was itself generally considered an uncouth contraction until as late as the 1950s, it’s possible that people were riffing on it verbally even if it wasn’t recorded in print.

But, those caveats aside, we reckon that the popularity of the specific catchy unit ‘pub grub’ can be traced pretty precisely to a Brewers’ Society advertising campaign that began in 1967, an example of which, taken from The Times, you can see above.

It was hammered home with follow-up ads in 1968, a prominent mention in the slyly-sponsored 1969 anthology Pub edited by Angus McGill, and by individual members of the Society in their own PR. Watney’s, for example, ran an exhibition called Pub Grub ’71 in, er, 1971.

It’s almost disappointing to discover that, like Beer is Best, this is another example of marketing people training punters to use their language. It’s also rather impressive.

11 thoughts on “Repeat After Us: Pub. Grub.”

  1. It’s one of those weird phrases in which otherwise obsolete vocabulary lives on. I’ve never heard the word grub on its own used for food in my lifetime, except in the Beano.

    Do people actually use the term pub grub either, though, unless they happen to work in marketing or in a pub? To me, it’s PR-ese. If a friend asked me if I wanted to go for some pub grub, I’d find it a bit odd, like if they suggested going down the wet-led on-trade outlet.

      1. People might use the term “grub” in certain contexts, such as “grub’s up” for “dinner is served”, but I think it’s one of those words that actually isn’t used in everyday speech any more. It has a bit of a whiff of military life about it.

  2. Interesting that the phrase can be traced back so precisely. I’m glad you included the reference to the contraction “pub” being considered uncouth by some right up until the 1950s– I’d never heard that before.

    Can one extrapolate from this that when we think of folks going to the pub in the days of, say, Dickens, the people of that time would not have actually used the word “pub,” but would have instead said “public house?”

      1. This is Boak’s period more than mine but, yeah, the pub as we know it today existed but wasn’t usually called that; ‘public house’ starts to become common from the late 19th century; but you don’t find ‘pub’ or ‘pubs’ in print all that often before, say, the 1920s, and it’s considered a bit louche even then.

  3. It’s a term I remember my parents using a lot when I was a child. I guess it went in parallel with another innovation from their early years of socialising in the ’60s: the lounge bar.

  4. Barm commented grub wasn’t word he expected to hear in real life. I’m assuming Barm is southern as it’s normal speak around these parts. pub grub is an interesting term as it’s meaning changes. To me it implies typical pub food, 20 years ago that may have been pie and pees, sausage and mash or anything in a giant Yorkshire pudding. Suspect term wasn’t really needed as much pre gastro pubs – any grub served in a pub was pub grub, once gastro pubs became a thing pub grub became term for the more standard fare. ( you may find written examples proving I’m talking bollocks) . Meals included in term definitely changed whilst I’ve been drinking 25 years ago no one would have expected a curry on a pub menu

  5. I recall that quite a lot of pubs had signs advertising ‘Pub Grub’ in the 1970s, and although not many people would have said ‘grub’ on its own, the full phrase was often used by customers to describe a certain kind of pub food.

  6. I like that Sally’s salad contains scotch egg. At least she’s drinking beer. Bit defeatist of the Brewers’ Society to have one of the party drinking wine.

  7. As no one has mentioned it, it should be said grub is typical American rural speech. You used to hear it a lot in cowboy movies, “what’s for grub, Ben?”.

    This is an old, English term which came over with the Mayflower like so many others. Indeed many fashionable-sounding American terms are really old English turned around a bit, like to be “bummed out”, or “grossed out”. Countless examples.

    Gary

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