Word for the day (and maybe the month): greeble

A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting piece on a sexed-up image of a drone that seems to have become the canonical image of that increasingly dominant device.

The Atlantic article extensively quotes the man who figured out that the image wasn't actually of a real, existing drone, James Bridle. In the quote, Bridle lists some of the evidence that the image is bogus:

The level of detail is too low: missing hatches on the cockpit and tail, the shape of the air intake, the greebling on the fins and body.

"Greebling"? Both Bridle and the article use the word as if it is something perfectly normal, not worth mentioning. I looked at those fins and body and saw no gremlin bites taken out of the leading edges, or anything else that might be greebling.

Greebling is all those plastic pieces of old Revell battleships that designers glued to spaceships to make them look more complicated, and thus, in some sense, more "realistic". Or, as Pooh-Bah might have described it, "merely corroborative detail to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative".

It's interesting that, in a world where all of our personal technology is designed to be utterly smooth, and everything from cars to coffee makers are as sleek as seals, that a whole bunch of crap makes something look like it's real.

Of course, a spaceship doesn't have to streamlined, and presumably you could put a lot of support gear on the outside of your living quarters. But that's not really the point. The point is that our mind likes to see several levels of detail. Gives us something to look at.

But I would argue that the word can also be used in analyzing prose fiction. We often add detail to make things seem real. Consider the following sequence of descriptive sentences:

He poured himself a drink.

He poured himself a glass of whiskey.

He poured the last of the Bulleit rye into the glass without washing it first.

That Bulleit rye (now that I wrote that, I am going to pull the bottle out of my desk drawer and, well pour it into a glass...ah, wonderful. Not quite the last of it, but close...has someone been getting at my private stock?) is greebling. Not only greebling, of course. It tells you something about me, my response to marketing, my socioeconomic status, or at least aspirations, and maybe that I have read way too many old detective novels.

But it is greebling, in the sense that most of us like sentences somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. I didn't wander into James territory, because I could not imagine a James character taking a drink in less than a page, and we both have things to do, don't we? But some detail gives us enough to incorporate, without slowing us down too much. It's a delicate dance.  And, as anyone familiar with my work can tell you, I can greeble 'till the cows come home.

The term "greebling" needs to enter literary criticism. Consider this a start.