Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, August 22, 2013



Two weeks ago, Anne R. Allen posed a question in the comments section of Wordmonger regarding the word dish. I hope you’ll find the story of dish as satisfying as I did.

Dish occupies about one full page of the print version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Dish first appeared in Old English as early as 700 AD, meaning disk, plate or table. The disk or plate meaning came from what is known as Vulgar Latin, while the table meaning came through an early Italian or French dialect.

By the mid-1400s dish could refer to a type of food served, as in “Elton brought the most peculiar dish to Gliselda’s potluck.”

Around that same time the verb form appeared, meaning to serve food. We see vestiges of this form in the modern idiom to dish up.

By the 1940s, the idiom dish it out was born, meaning to administer punishment.

Somewhere around 1900 the noun dish picked up the meaning what one likes, as in “Who would’ve guessed that juggling live squid would become little Balthazar’s dish?”

By 1920 the noun dish acquired the meaning attractive woman, as in “That Myrtle Mae is one serious dish!” About this same time the adjective dishy was born, applying to both male and female attractiveness.

Dish’s closest relations include disk, disc, discus, dais & desk.

Some additional dish idioms include:

To dish on someone
To do the dishes
To dish the dirt
Revenge is a dish best served cold

Some lost meanings for dish include:
A specific measure of corn
In tin-mining, a gallon of ore ready for smelting
In the game of quoits, a quoit
To cheat, defeat completely or circumvent

In celebration of one of the many meanings of dish, please leave a note in the comments section regarding a favorite family dish of the edible variety).

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik & Etymonline.


  1. "Revenge is a dish best served cold"--one of my favorite quotes ever. So do the dishy dish on each other? And oh my dishing and smelting. Had no idea there was a connection!

    1. Dishing & smelting? As in "I smelt the dish?"

  2. This is truly amazing. How does anyone learn English as a second language. It's nuts. As in cashews?

    Favorite family dish...Mom's lasagna. And the one with the purple rooster on it. :)

    1. Wow -- I've never heard of rooster lasagna! And I agree that English is a wacky language to learn, whether as a first language, second, third...

  3. I'm sorry for being so absent, Charlie. Summer is way too busy for me, because I like to milk my goats and make farmer's cheese from their milk. It is soft like cottage cheese and is one of my favorite foods. Yum, yum.

  4. Jean Ann - how great to hear from you. When Ellen & I lived in Goatland we got in the habit of making a chevre -- a creamy ricotta-like cheese that was delicious. Amen to good goat cheese, & to the goats responsible.

  5. Dish...desk...dais. Holy smokes. I'm going to love this blog.

    A ritz cracker, hummus, and a slice of cucumber, stacked and devoured. Also Indian butter chicken.

  6. Howdy Rachel6,
    I'm glad you had a good time with this. And isn't hummus a great invention? I like mine with a little flatbread, but viva la difference!