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, January 30, 2014

Quotes about Food


Quotes about Food

My two all-time favorite quotation books are Carolyn Warner’s The Words of Extraordinary Women, & Rosalie Maggio’s The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women. It fascinates & saddens me that the brilliant bits between these covers seldom appear in most books of quotations, or internet quotation sites. Here are some food-related quotes from these two fine resources:

Patricia Hampl – When we eat / we are like / everyone else

Ayn Rand – Ah, there’s nothing like tea in the afternoon. When the British Empire collapses, historians will find that it had made but two invaluable contributions to civilization—this tea ritual and the detective novel.

Erica Jong – Eating is never so simple as hunger.

Fran Lebowitz – Food is an important part of a balanced diet.

Fran Lebowitz – Cheese that is required by law to append the word food to its title does not go well with red wine or fruit.

Julia Child – Noodles are not only amusing but delicious.

Sarah J. Hale – There is small danger of being starved in our land of plenty; but the danger of being stuffed is imminent.

Sara Peretsky – All food starting with a p is comfort food . . . pasta, potato chips, pretzels, peanut butter, pastrami, pizza, pastry.

Peg Bracken – Molded salads are best served in situations where they have little or no competition.

Joan Gussow – As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.

Isak Dinesen – Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the word of the Lord is to the soul.

Which quote hits closest to home? Which one coaxes a smile out of you? Please leave a comment.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cooking Igioms


Cooking Idioms

When reading through a list of idioms I can’t keep myself from chuckling. Here’s a list cooking-related idioms with no notes regarding definitions or origins. I have hopes it will inspire a chuckle or two:

spill the beans
not worth a hill of beans
full of beans
to not know beans
bean counter
too many cooks spoil the broth
out of the frying pan & into the fire
cry over spilt milk
not one’s cup of tea
done to a T
cook up a storm
cook to perfection
burn to a crisp
half baked
grist for the mill
the pot calling the kettle black
to bite off more than one can chew
to bite that hand that feeds one
eat crow
eat dirt
eat humble pie
eat like a bird
eat like a horse
eat high on the hog
eat one’s hat
eat one’s heart out
eat one’s words
easy as pie
that takes the cake
a piece of cake
icing on the cake
have one’s cake & eat it too

Dear readers – any chuckling? If so, what idiom(s) got you going?


My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline, & The Idiom Connection

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Meals We Eat


The Meals We Eat

If the foods we eat have fascinating etymological tales to tell, shouldn’t the labels we give our meals be similarly intriguing?

The noun breakfast showed up in English in the 1400s & is a simple combination of the verb break & the noun fast. It hasn’t changed in meaning over the years, & for centuries has referred to a time when we break our nightlong fast. Breakfast happens to be a tosspot word.

We all know that brunch is a combination of breakfast & lunch, but who knew it was a portmanteau word created by British college students in 1896? Words combined to make a new word are called portmanteau words, a term stolen from a piece of luggage designed with two compartments (apparently one for each of the two contributing words).

Lunch started out as luncheon (originally spelled lunching) in the 1650s, meaning a light repast between mealtimes. Though nobody knows for sure, lunch may have come from:

1.    An earlier English term meaning thick piece or hunk
2.    A northern English word meaning hunk of bread or cheese
3.    A Middle English term, nonechenche which translates to noon drink

The word snack entered English in the 1400s meaning the snap of a dog’s jaw. By the 1550s snack meant a snappish remark. The 1680s brought a new meaning for snack: a share, portion or part. By 1807 snack morphed to mean a mere bite or morsel to eat.

In the 1300s the English borrowed disner from the French in the form of the word dinner. Interestingly, dinner originally meant the first meal of the day, then moved later to mean the noonday meal, & eventually came to timelessly mean the main meal of the day. The lower & middle classes ate this meal near midday, but over time the upper classes commandeered the term dinner to refer to the meal they enjoyed after sunset.

Back in the 1200s the English also borrowed soper (now spelled supper) from the French. This word referred to the last meal of the day, a meal that was seen as lighter & less formal than the midday dinner. Interestingly, the verb sup developed independently on two separate trunks of the etymological tree. From French soper came the verb sup, to eat the evening meal. At the same time the Old High German word sufen, to drink alcohol, grew to become the German supen & Dutch zuipen, meaning to tipple. This term ended up in Old English meaning to take into the mouth with the lips, giving us parallel growth of two completely different roots to end up with surprisingly similar meaning.

In the 1600s dessert showed up in English from the French word desservire, meaning clear the table. So when we indulge in dessert we’re etymologically celebrating the clearing of the previous course from the table.

I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in which we all ate dinner. We shared the understanding that people who mistakenly called dinner supper had their snoots in the air. Followers, how did you look upon these terms in your youth?


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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Things We Eat


Things We Eat

The stories behind the names of the things we eat can often be as delicious as the items themselves. Here’s a random sampling from words that made their way into English during the 1700s:

Pumpernickel – this dense, tasty bread is of German origin, as is its name. Oddly, the name pumpernickel referred originally to a coarse, dark, brutish fellow. Etymologists argue over whether the first part is pumper, meaning the noise of a heavy fall, or pumpern, meaning to break wind. The second part is a nickname for the name Nicholas, which interestingly is also equated with goblins, louts & rascals. Etymologists can’t piece together exactly how pumpernickel moved from labeling the louts or farts to labeling the bread, but given the fact that the paler flours tended to be reserved for the wealthy, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how any generally negative term got applied to a distinctively dark bread.

The sandwich, as many have heard, was named for John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Some claim the Earl was very fond of gambling – so fond, he often wasn’t willing to put down his cards for events as mundane as meals, so he simply wrapped a hunk of meat in a slice of bread and ate without slowing the game(s). Other historians claim that the inaugural sandwich was most likely eaten at the Earl’s desk as he addressed his many responsibilities in business and politics.

Welsh rabbit is actually a snub directed at the good people of Wales. Typically, Welsh rabbit is melted cheese or cream over toast or crackers. It seems the Welsh were perceived as living on the wrong side of the tracks. The snub suggests that melted cheese over toast was the nearest thing to rabbit the Welsh could afford.

The word chowder has etymologists duking it out. Some claim it heralds from Brittany, where a form of the French word chaud, meaning hot, gave birth to the name for the pot one puts over the fire, the chaudiere, or cauldron. These etymologists claim the “housewives of Brittany” used the term chowder for both the pot & for what they cooked in the pot. Other etymologists stick with the same French roots for the word, but place the word’s birth in Newfoundland in the early Americas.

When we toast someone, we typically don’t raise a piece of heated bread to do so, but to some degree, our ancestors did. In a classy establishment of the 1700s, a tiny piece of spiced toast was placed in the bottom of a glass filled with ale or another beverage. When the glass was raised in honor of someone, the drinker did, indeed, raise the toast.

What food names do you wonder about? Or what might you have to say about the origins noted above? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.



My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline, Jordan Almond’s Dictionary of Word Origins & Wordnik

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Never Say Cold


Never Say Cold

This week’s post is in honor of my loving wife, Ellen, who introduced my temperature-insensitive self some 20+ years ago to her unique take on words used to label cooler temperatures.

Nippy she sees as a non-threatening coolishness, one that inspires rosy cheeks & connotes fun & frivolity, yet still requires a sweater. Nippy entered the English language in 1898, & has a vague association with the idiom, “a biting chill in the air.”  Nippy comes from the word nip, which came to the language in the 1300s from Germanic sources, meaning to pinch sharply or bite suddenly.

Just down the thermometer on Ellen’s scale of coolness is chilly, a level of coolness that calls for serious layering. Chilly showed up in the 1560s from the noun chill, which came from a Proto-Indo European word meaning cold, through the Old English word ciele or cele. Interestingly, for two centuries, from the 1400s through the 1600s the word chill eclipsed the word cold in English usage. Since the 1600s, cold is most English speakers’ go-to word when the temperature drops.

Next on Ellen’s scale of coolness is brisk, which connotes consistent discomfort & very little hope in sight for warming. Ellen tries to reserve brisk for truly uncomfortable situations. Brisk came to English through Scottish (bruisk) in the 1550s. The Scots got it from the French word brusque which meant lively, fierce, sharp & tart.

In Ellen’s scale of coolness, the word cold is to be avoided at all costs, as it suggests all hope is lost. For academic purposes, I have included this ever-so-sad & hope-sucking word. Read on if you are strong. Cold comes from Germanic sources (cald, ceald, kalt, kaldr, kalds, & more) and appeared in English in the 900s. These words came from the Proto-Indo-European word gel- or gol-, which through other branches of the etymological tree gave birth to gelatin, glass & glacier.

Some cold idioms include:

Catch cold 1200s
Cold-blooded 1590s
Cold-hearted 1600
Cold shoulder 1816
Cold feet 1893
Cold turkey 1910
Cold war 1945

Also of interest, the word cool once had the form coolth. For reasons unknown, though warm held onto the alternate form warmth, cool lost its alternate form coolth.

What have you to say about Ellen’s scale of coolness? Or about any of the words above?


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