Origin of the term
The word "grunge" is American slang for "someone or something that is repugnant" and also for "dirt". The word was first recorded as being applied to Seattle musicians in July 1987 when Bruce Pavitt described Green River's Dry as a Bone EP in a Sub Pop record company catalogue as "gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation". Although the word "grunge" has been used to describe bands since the 1960s, this was the first association of grunge with the grinding, sludgy sound of Seattle. It is expensive and time consuming to get a recording to sound clean, so for those northwestern bands just starting out it was cheaper for them to leave the sound dirty and just turn up their volume. This dirty sound, due to low budgets, unfamiliarity with recording, and a lack of professionalism may be the origin of the term "grunge".
The "Seattle scene" refers to that city's alternative music movement that was linked to the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College. Evergreen is a progressive college which does not use a conventional grading system and has its own radio station, KAOS. Seattle's remoteness from Los Angeles led to a perceived purity of its music. The music of these bands, many of which had recorded with Seattle's independent record label Sub Pop, became labeled as "grunge". Nirvana's frontman Kurt Cobain, in one of his final interviews, credited Jonathan Poneman, cofounder of Sub Pop, with coining the term "grunge" to describe the music.
The term "Seattle sound" became a marketing ploy for the music industry. In September 1991, the Nirvana album Nevermind was released, bringing mainstream attention to the music of Seattle. Cobain loathed the word "grunge" and despised the new scene that was developing, feeling that record companies were signing old "cock-rock" bands who were pretending to be grunge and claiming to be from Seattle.
Some bands associated with the genre, such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, have not been receptive to the label, preferring instead to be referred to as "rock and roll" bands. Ben Shepherd from Soundgarden stated that he "hates the word" grunge and hates "being associated with it." Seattle musician Jeff Stetson states that when he visited Seattle in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a touring musician, the local musicians did not refer to themselves as "grunge" performers or their style as "grunge" and they were not flattered that their music was being called "grunge".
Rolling Stone noted the genre's lack of a clear definition. Robert Loss acknowledges the challenges of defining "grunge"; stating that while he can recount stories about grunge, they do not serve to provide a useful definition. Roy Shuker states that the term "obscured a variety of styles." Stetson states that grunge was not a movement, "monolithic musical genre", or a way to react to 1980s-era metal pop; he calls the term a misnomer mostly based on hype. Stetson states that prominent bands considered to be grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and Hammerbox) all sound different. Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, pointed out vast differences between grunge bands, with some being punk and others being metal-based.