The gall of it all

Hunkpapa warrior Chief Gall, c. 1880s

Hunkpapa warrior Chief Gall, c. 1880s

We often use the word “gall” in phrases such as “I can’t believe she has the gall to…” or “that really galls me.”  But what exactly does “gall” mean?

In its first sense, gall is a synonym for “bile.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, however, these days “gall” applies only to animals.  Either way, gall (or bile) is a bitter-tasting, yellowish substance that aids in the digestion of fat. Because of its taste, gall can also be used to refer to anything that is bitter or severe.

The word gall comes from Old English gealla (meaning bile), a cognate of Greek kholē.  It may also come from Old English geolo (yellow), a possible reference to bile’s color. The two roots may, in fact, be related.

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