Sunday, 18 June 2006

Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies

The other day an internet friend in Wisconsin kindly sent me a copy of a book with this title. It is a fascinating and exhaustive treatise about the origin of the names used for things we eat, thus combining two of my main interests: words and food.
The author, Martha Barnette, is a journalist but also clearly a serious etymologist, and the derivations she lists have been carefully researched, but this does not inhibit her from including a bit of folk etymology when it’s amusing and at least possible, if not proven. She gives caveats for these: for example, she says “many etymologists believe” that pumpernickel comes from the German for devil’s fart; well, maybe, but the OED makes no mention of this and gives the origin as uncertain, while noting that before 1663 the word referred to a lout or booby. And lampoon, “many etymologists believe”, comes from lampons!, meaning let’s drink, a common exhortation in boozy French songs, while the OED says rather sniffily that French etymologists believe this, but prefers to derive it from lamponner, to ridicule, which indeed seems more likely.
But there's no doubt about carpaccio, a dish in which the main ingredient is served, usually raw, in extremely thin slices: the OED confirms that it comes from "...Vittore Carpaccio (c1460-1525), Venetian painter, who used a distinctive red colour similar to that of raw beef. The dish is said to have been created by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice in 1961, inspired by an exhibition of Carpaccio's work at the Doge's Palace".

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