1590s, Shakespearean back-formation from groveling "on the face, prostrate" (mid-14c.), also used in Middle English as an adjective but probably really an adverb, from gruffe, from Old Norse grufe "prone" + obsolete adverbial suffix -ling (which survives also as the -long in headlong, sidelong). The Old Norse word is found in liggja à grufu "lie face-down," literally "lie on proneness." Old Norse also had grufla "to grovel," grufa "to grovel, cower, crouch down." The whole group is perhaps related to creep (v.). Related: Groveled; grovelled; groveling; grovelling.