Grim Dell


Definition (n.): the section of lake Matoaka enclosed by the trails connecting the back of campus to Old Campus and the Sunken Gardens.

Etymology: The term “Grim Dell” is a play on “Crim Dell,” which refers to a small body of water across from the Sadler center and adjacent to Landrum Hall. The Crim Dell, which originally meant the body of water but now refers to both it and the above bridge, was named after John W. H. Crim, a student from the William and Mary class of 1901. Grim comes from the German grimm, meaning “angry fierce, or furious”. Additionally, dell comes from several old Germanic words, including the German telle and English dale, and it means “a small valley, usually among trees”. The Crim Dell is known for being one of the campus’ most picturesque spots, even prompting a local legend.

The term “Grim Dell,” however, was coined informally by students of the College at an indeterminate time. Upon being introduced to the lush and scenic Crim Dell, usually a landmark feature of campus tours, and later coming across the comparatively unkempt and dingy inlet in the center of the woodland trails, new students often hear this term used by upperclassmen and find it an apt and entertaining name for this less scenic pond.

Sociolectal Information: Since this is a slang term with its origins in the William and Mary student community, it has remained mainly used by that community; it would likely confuse outsiders, as non-students and those not from Williamsburg don’t have the particular knowledge necessary to identify the reference made in the name or the body of water to which it refers. I also found that there exists some confusion among the student community due to the layout of the water between the trails; because there are two separate sections of water, some weren’t sure whether it referred to one, the other, or both. The prevailing opinion was that its primary use is in describing the central section behind the Sadler Center, although the confusion present could indicate a weakness of the term. A few students had also heard it used by professors, though they confirmed the trend of mostly hearing it from students.

Lexopinions: I think this word has a large amount of staying power within the William and Mary student community. First of all, it not only sounds a lot like a well-known place name but makes a pun of it which serves to elucidate its meaning. Second, it names a place which previously didn’t have a name; as this inlet is rather scraggly and hidden, there seemed to be no need to name it officially. However, since many students walk past this pond every day, it seemed to merit some kind of term, and “Grim Dell,” with its nod to the Crim Dell and snappy yet accurate depiction of the place itself, stuck.


  1. In my experience, “Grim Dell” has been a confusing term because I was never sure if it referred to the pond in the center of the trails, or the green-covered pond behind Swem (the above mentioned Shrek section), or both. Did you encounter any confusion in your interviews? This confusion has usually kept me from using the word because I’m afraid of using it incorrectly.

  2. Grim Dell forever!!!! I love the way this term is ubiquitous and so funny. The way it has evolved like with the mattress covered in plants, the Shrek section near Swem, and the random stuff that surfaces in the Grim Dell delight me constantly. I’m so glad this is in the dictionary!

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