Ruffled apron.

Apron is found in English writing in 1307 as naperonns, a reflection of its French origins as naperon, a diminutive form of nape “table cloth”, which comes from the Latin mappa “table-napkin”.

First off, this means that apron and napkin come from the same place.

Napkin-folding instructions from Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery Book (1923)

English takes naperon from French as a word for “the article of dress” used to “protect clothes from dirt or injury” and then, a few decades later, takes nape “cloth for table” from French (again) and adds the Dutch suffix –kin “small” to get napkin (or, what were apparently competing synonyms at the time, napet or napella).

Second, it means that somewhere along the way, English speakers made a shift from a napron to an apron.

“a napron” or “an apron” – it’s a spontaneous reanalysis of the article-word boundary. Or it just keeps your clothes clean.

You can use apron as an adjective.  As in apron-child (a child old enough to stand if holding on to mom’s apron), apron-string (what no one wants to let go of, c.f. apron-child) and apron-husband (not quite what you think, instead apron-husband refers to a man that “meddles with his wife’s business”).

This is what you get when you google “apron man”. Well, this and a lot of pornographic kitchen-wear.

A more recent term for ‘apron’ is pinafore, which comes from the combination of to pin the verb and afore “in front”.   This term surfaces in writing in the late 1700s, along with its siblings, pinbefore and pincloth.  All of these refer to the same kind of apron – one which ties around the waist, but has an upper square that is pinned onto the shirt to hold it up.  Pinafores were associated especially with young children, both boys and girls, worn to protect their clothes.

A pinafore.

Alas, “pinbefore” and “pincloth” are now considered obsolete –  as are pins.  Pinafores today (?!) are, like the one pictured above, pin-less (probably wise when the covering is used in combination with small children).

From the 1850s on, we also see the use of pinny as a shortened form of pinafore.

My question: if a pinafore looks this nice, what do you wear over it to keep it clean?

When you have a traditional apron that ties at the waist, the top half of an apron is referred to as the bib, which can be pinned, looped, or tied behind the neck. The word bib probably comes from the verb bib “to drink” (a lot), which we see in words like imbibe. These days, we are most likely to see a bib on a baby.  Or a lobster-crawfish-ribs eater.

A half-apron at work (in a 1920s cookbook).

Meet the 1950s hostess apron. A wee bit less functional and a wee bit transparent.

You can, of course, have a half-apron (also referred to in the 1950s as a hostess apron or cocktail apron) whose function is primarily to indicate that it was in fact the wearer that prepared the food (probably while wearing a full apron made of non-transparent material).

The smock. (The 1970s were a hard, hard time. But we kept clean.)

The oldest word in English for ‘apron’ is actually smock, which appears to be related to Old English smuggan “to creep” (likened to Old Norse smjuga “to creep into, put on, a garment”).  A smock can be more like a dress than a covering, as it can be full-length with sleeves (which apparently must be put on slowly).

The word smock first appears in English writing around 1000, but at that time referred to a “woman’s undergarment; a shift or chemise”.   Smock goes over clothes in the 1800s as part of the phrase smock-frock “loose-fitting garment of coarse linen or the like”, which was a garment worn by farm-laborers “over or instead of a coat”. The smock-frock keeps its shape, loses the –frock, and gains wider popularity in the 1930s, as a covering for artists and gardeners.

Yeah, birds don’t put mine on either.

So, cover up in the kitchen, keep your clothes olive-oil-splatter free.  Wear an apron.  And use cloth napkins while you’re at it.


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Bungalow comes to us from Hindustani bangala, a word that began as an adjective “belonging to Bengal” that described and later became the name for a style of home found in rural India and used as waystations by British travellers in India during the mid 19th c.  These bungalows were light structures, informal and temporary, built low to the ground with sizable porches covered by low-handing eaves.

A bungalow in India

The first couple of times we see it in English writing, bungalow appears in accounts of living in or traveling to India: from an 1809 journal, we have, “We came to a small bungalo, or garden-house” and in a descriptive passage from 1806, “The bungalows in India…are, for the most part…built of unbaked bricks and covered with thatch, having in the centre a hall…the whole being encompassed by an open verandah”.

Almost 100 years later, bungalow appears in an issue of The Architect and Contract Reporter, which states simply, “The buildings have been designed in a bungalow type”. In America, the term bungalow is taken up by residential architects in California to describe small, one-story homes that have an informal feel, characterized by a multipurpose floor plan with an open living/dining room area.

Typical bungalow floorplan

The bungalow craze lasted from 1905 to 1930 and spread west to east as the appeal of the plan caught on – the bungalow had a “first home” aura which made it perfect for newlyweds and younger homebuyers.  The bungalow was not necessarily place to settle down for good; it was (still) temporary, a step in a direction (much like the “starter home” of today).

Many of the Sears & Roebuck homes sold during the first decades of the 20th century were of the bungalow style, like “The Argyle”.

The important aspect of the bungalow, the one that signals some serious cultural change, is the blending of public and private spaces – no longer was there a separate room (like a parlor) for entertaining –  everyone was welcome in the family room – and parts of the house that had once been cordoned off (like the kitchen) were now in view of visitors and dinner guests.

American two-story bungalow – which looks just like the house my grandparents used to live in.

A google search for “craftsman bungalow” results in a flood of images of houses that all look like the house my grandparents lived in when I was little.  But with tiny variations.  It’s the same house, presented in a myriad of different building materials (brick, shingle siding, clapboard siding) and colors (gray, brown, red, orange), all with the same wide-stepped front porch and low eaves, the same windows and brick chimney.

The rooms were set so that we could run our multi-leafed Thanksgiving dinner table from the dining area to the living room – the only way to make space for all of us.  A benefit of multipurpose-ness.

The house I live in now has no architectural dividers between the dining area, living area and kitchen. The bungalow laid the foundation for this kind of open-concept plan, laying the foundation for the living spaces that were to come.

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Make coffee

Coffee made its way into English through Turkish, ultimately coming from Arabic qahwah, which Arabic lexicographers say originally meant “wine” and is derived from a verb meaning “to have no appetite”.  Coffee – the word and the drink – appears to have burst onto the scene (and into European languages) around 1600, and we see it as the French, Spanish, and Portuguese cafe, the Dutch koffie, the Danish and Swedish kaffe, and the Russian kophe.

This early coffee was made the Turkish way, in which one dumps ground (or pounded) coffee beans in water and brings it to a boil, then immediately pours the thick, strong liquid into a cup, allowing the grounds to settle a bit before drinking.

Long-handled Turkish coffee pot

The long-handled Turkish coffee pots look rather exotic to us now; we are probably more familiar with the shape and form of European coffee pots, which could get pretty fancy, but had the same general shape as the teapot (in fact, many pots were used for brewing either coffee or tea).

Wooden-handled French coffee pot from the early 1700s

Speaking of, let’s say you wanted to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, what might you ask someone to do?

This is what you have               and this is what you want

I think the most common answer would be that we would ask someone (politely) to make coffee.

Would you ask them to brew coffee?  We use the term brew with coffee often enough, but usually as part of the phrase freshly-brewed.

Brew is from the same Germanic root as broth, a root that had wider meaning of “make a decoction, infuse”, which is really what you’re doing if you are soaking something in water in order to extract a flavor (which is where broth comes from too, right?). A decoction, by the way, is something that has been boiled to extract “the soluble parts or principles of the substance”.  Not suprisingly, decoction is similar in many ways (and often used interchangeably) with concoction, from the verb concoct, “to make ready, prepare, by heat”, usually by boiling.  (Both words’ original meanings had to do with digestion. Perhaps an after-dinner coffee connection?)

A great many of the Linguistic Atlas responses to “what do you say when you want a new pot of coffee?” reflect the very basic way to make coffee – throw the grounds in a pot full of water and put it on the stove.  Lots of people said they’d ask someone to boil some coffee or steep some coffee.

The verb to steep comes from an old Germanic root staupjan “vessel for liquor”, which means it’s related to a word some of you might recognize, stoup “pail or bucket” (now considered to be mainly Scottish), and also related to stop “pail or bucket” which is now obsolete (found in writing 725 through 1895).  The verb to has as its ultimate origins the Latin  bullī-re “to form bubbles”.

“to bubble up in agitation through the action of heat … to roll about under the influence of heat”

Some of the Atlas phrases did reflect the technology behind modern-day coffee machines, inspired by the French drip brewing machine (the biggin), and patented in the U.S. in the mid to late 1800s.  The stovetop percolator was patented by Hanson Goodrich in 1889 (an earlier version was patented by James Nason in 1865).

The action of percolation occurs when  liquid is “cause[d] … to pass through the interstices of a porous body or medium” in other words, “to strain or filter”.  Ah, so no longer would shaky coffee cup-holding hands fear the stirring up of the grounds resting at the bottom…

See those grounds? No longer a concern.

When the Atlas interviews were being conducted in the 1930s and 40s, a lot of folks responded that they would ask someone to percolate some coffee (or to perk some coffee).

“Perk” from “to percolate” and “perk” meaning “cheerful, lively”? Oddly unrelated. Etymologically, at least.

The use of percolate for coffee first appears in writing in the Modern Language Journal in 1959:  “We percolate our coffee, toast our bread, and fry our eggs on electrical devices without rising”.  As this passage sounds enticingly critical, I tracked it down.  To the 1958 President’s Address to the Modern Language Teachers Associations, entitled (wait for it) “The Crucial Importance of the Humanities in a Science-Dominated World”.

[Allow me an additional excerpt: “the study of the humanities ideally should prepare, and accustom, the individual to make decisions where no final or generally acceptable decisions are possible”.]

By 2001, however, the modern edge of percolation has softened to nostalgia, “We percolate coffee every day and that smell serves as a cue to remind people that, aha, it’s time for breakfast” (from the Palm Beach Post).  From all “sciencey” to “quaint” in less than 50 years.

Speaking of quaint, one common response among southern speakers interviewed for the Atlas Project was draw some coffee.

The etymological trail of to draw goes something like this: From Germanic dragan “to pull” we move to Old English draw “cause (anything) to move toward oneself by the application of force” (which is why you can still draw a sword, draw water from a well, draw breath, attention, or a curtain, or, well, . . . a blank). Draw comes to be applied to liquids and the idea that you ‘pull’ them from the opening of a vessel. From here, we get the use of draught (and draft) for “a drink” and an explanation of why we draw blood.

The idea of pulling a pencil along paper given us “drawing” as we think of it in art.

Drawing coffee would be extracting coffee from the brewing vessel.  Which sounds like a good idea about now.  Cheers.

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Hungry for a snack?

Snack started its etymological life as a verb (“to snack”) which possibly (though doubtfully) originated from the Middle Dutch snacken (which sounds like I made it up, but I didn’t).  The original sense of snack (and snacken) was “a snap, a bite, especially that of a dog” and we see it used this way in English writing between 1400 and 1900.

I think he wants a doggie snacken.

So, right off the bat we have in fact three terms that follow the same sort of trajectory – snack, snap, and bite – moving from dog mouths to people mouths, and to people mouths both in the sense of words (you can make “biting” remarks and be accussed of “snapping” at someone) and in the sense of food (snack, snap, and bite are all terms found for “food eaten in between meals” within the Linguistic Atlas data).

I get rather snappish when I am in need of a bite.

The idea behind the transition of snack “to bite” and snack “a bite” is that of being a “small quantity”, a “mere taste” of food or drink.  A morsel, a tidbit, a “light or incidental repast” (no amount of joking could be better than what the OED actually says).

Some repasts seem less “incidental” than others. Some just make you feel like an inadequate mom (snack-wise, at least).

An example of early written snack (from the British publication The Monitor, 1757): “When once a man has got a snack of their trenchers, he too often retains a hankering after the honey-pot”.  I’m pretty sure my mom gave me this same warning when I started dating…

Anyway, another, more old-fashioned, word for “a snack” is actually lunch.  The earliest use of the word lunch was to denote the “sound made by the fall of a soft heavy body” (read: “the sound of too much snacking”); lunch in this sense might be onomatopoeic.

A “snack tray” for kids that would take me longer to make than dinner.

Lunch may have developed from lump (like hunch from hump and bunch from bump, perhaps in a box and perhaps with a fox).

Lunch takes on a more familiar meaning in the late 1500s, as “a piece, a thick piece; a hunch or hunk”. The word was used as an abbreviation of luncheon, was initially considered “vulgar” and, according to an 1829 quotation, lunch was “avoided as unsuitable to the polished society there exhibited”.


So, which came first, lunch or luncheon?

Dunno.  Luncheon shows up first in writing (11 years before lunch). It could be that lunch hops over to the food-side of things due to the influence of Spanish lonja “slice of ham”.  It could be that luncheon came from lunch (like truncheon from trunch and puncheon from punch, perhaps in a boat and perhaps with a goat).

Apparently we do a lot of stuff by analogy.

But back to snacks.

This is what I give my kids.

Other words for a snack?  How about a piece, a piece meal, or a piecing?

Homemade goldfish crackers? Are you kidding me?

How about a nuncheon? (Noon + our suffix friend from before, cheon).

Would you care for a nosh, a snatch, a knick knack, a tidbit? How about a morsel (and we get the following from 1655 A Voyage to India, “The Shark. . .will make a morsell of any thing he can catch, master, and devour”).

Take that, overachieving-snack- making-mommies! You’re making the rest of us pre-made-snack- serving-moms look bad.

Maybe, if you did prepare a fancy snack (and you know who you are), then you should call it a refection (related to refectory, from the Latin verb “to refresh”), a mixtum, a bever (yes, it’s related), a collation (so is this), a crib (if you’re an Aussie or a Kiwi), a munchin, or a merenda (if your snack is Italian).

Or a bait.  Which went from “attractive morsel of food placed on a hook or in a trap to allure fish or other animals to seize it and be thereby captured” to use as “food generally” or “refreshment” between 1470 and 1650 or so.

Snacks: attractive morsels of food placed on a plate in order to allure children or other animals to seize it and be thereby captured. Or just placated.

The last tidbit of snacky information I’d like to leave you with is another morsel of Linguistic Atlas data.  How about a jackbite?

Jackbite is a term used in West Virginia along the Kanawha River, a term that harkens back to the early European settlers of the area, who were mostly from Scotland, Ireland and northern England.  These settlers would have brought with them the term chack, which, much like the terms snack, snap, and bite, comes from a verb meaning “to squeeze or crush with teeth”. So, people heard “chack” and interpreted it as jack and then, knowing it meant “a bite to eat”, added bite to get jackbite (this general process, of hearing and re-interpreting, is called folk etymology).

Chack also gave rise to the use of check for snack, a term you might (still) hear in other eastern areas settled by these same people, such as the Blue Ridge mountains.

And so we have as much variation in our names for snacks as we do in the snacks themselves.

A snack snake. Otherwise known as an I-have-way-too-much-time-on-my-hands snack. Clearly we spend our free time in different ways.

As a reward for finishing this blog entry, I think I’ll have a . . .  I’ll have a . . . um. . . I’ll just have tea.

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What would you call these?

They’re vegetables (obviously)

Vegetables, right? And if someone asked you, “What are the home-grown things that grow in a garden?” I bet you would have said the same thing.  Maybe to be clever, we can add veggies or the even more clever (cause it’s shorter) veg.

How about garden sauce?  No, it doesn’t mean “sauce” as in liquid-esque-thing-to-pour-on-other-things.  Garden sauce means “vegetables”.

And what grows in a victory garden? Garden sauce.

Garden sauce is an American term which we find in several spelling guises, each of which reflects a variation on pronunciation: we have garden sars, and garden sarse, and possibly my favorite, garden sass.

One very early written appearance of sauce as “vegetable” is in Beverly’s 1705 History of Virginia, “Roots, Herbs, Vine-fruits, and Salate-Flowers‥they dish up‥and find them very delicious Sauce to their Meats”.

We find this term in writing in 1791, “For want of garden sauce, they . . . eat more flesh than is consistent with their health”. Some things never change.

Yes, let’s load our soldiers and allies with carbs and animal fat.

Oh, and why, would sauce mean “vegetables”?

The word sauce comes from the French sauce, kin to the Spanish (and Portuguese and Italian) salsa, all of which descend from Latin salsa, which is the feminine form of salsus “salted”. Salad, also, is descended from the Latin sal “salt”, which makes it an etymological sibling of sauce. We see salad in different forms across Indo-European languages – French and Portuguese salada, Spanish ensalada, German, Swedish and Russian salat – some of which are echoed in different dialects of English.

Look, dancing salat!

Salad refers to a “cold dish of herbs or vegetables (e.g. lettuce, endive), usually uncooked and chopped up or sliced” to which other things can be added. A similar definition can be given for relish, which is also (basically) chopped up sauce.

We’ll deal with relish later, for now it’s back on the sauce.

From Knickerbocker’s 1809 History of New York, we have this delightful quote, “Some buxom country heiress,‥deeply skilled in the mystery of making apple sweetmeats, long sauce, and pumpkin pie”.

Long sauce?  Ahem.  It’s not what you think.

At one time in America, there was a distinction between short sauce and long sauce. The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) contains a 1859 quote that details this distinction, with short sauce as radishes, potatoes, turnips, onions, and pumpkins and long sauce as beets, carrots, and parsnips.  And we find info about this long/short sauce distinction mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as well.

But, DARE also has a quote from 1825 that also names round sauce (or “sarse”) as an option.  Round sauce remained undefined, though DARE does have an entry for round squash, also called round sauce squash, round white squash, or white round squash, all of which refer to summer squash (and especially pattypan squash).

I’m betting that this is what ’round sauce’ was

Garden stuff was another old term for “garden vegetables”, as was garden truck.

A truck full of garden truck

Garden truck is also an American term for “garden vegetables”.  These are not, in case you were wondering, vegetables grown in the bed of a pickup (which I have seen).  The use of truck here is much older, harkening back to its original sense as a verb meaning “to give in exchange for”.  Following from the verb, truck the noun comes to mean the “action or practice of trucking; trading by exchange of commodities” and then comes to denote the things being traded.

This is why we can (still) run across a saying such as to have no truck with someone to mean that you “don’t want to have anything to do with them” (a saying that’s been around since at least 1625).

Garden truck is noted in DARE to have appeared in writing (in a Maryland newspaper advertisement) in 1784.  It looks like truck was originally applied to different kinds of goods, including grain, cotton, medicine and other personal goods (the latter also being referred to as traps or junk).

Loading a trunk with truck and traps and junk and stuff

Between the mid-1800s and 1970s, the word trucker could be used to refer to a “gardener who sells produce”.  A truck garden (or truck patch) was the place where you grew such produce.

That “vegetables” can be called sauce, sass, truck, stuff example is a good reminder that a language contains a good many more words for things than you think!


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Because who doesn’t like sprinkles?

Cupcakes like sprinkles.

Perhaps obviously, the term sprinkles developed from the verb to sprinkle, which means “to scatter in drops; to let fall in small particles here and there”.  It makes perfect sense that small particles of sugar strewn here and there atop a cupcake or cookie would come to be known by the action used to scatter them.  The first time sprinkles appears in print to mean “tiny confections” is in a 1921 issue of Western Confectioner magazine, which hails the invention of a “new product being put on the market … in the form of ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’. They are made of chocolate and are used to decorate chocolates by sprinkling on chocolates after dipping; to decorate bon bons, cakes, pastry; also for sprinkling on chocolate sundaes at the fountain”.

Ice cream likes sprinkles too.

Though the American term sprinkles was new in the 1920s, the idea behind it (adding decorative sugar to desserts) had been around for a while.  There were French nonpareils (a topping “without equal”).  As early as 1697, we see quote from the Countess D’Aunoy that speaks of, “certain little Comfits, which in France we call Non-pareil”.

Unparalleled nonpareils.

There are Dutch hagelslag, which are chocolate “hail” invented in 1936 by Gerard de Vries, as well as sugar strands and hundreds and thousands, which are multi-colored British versions.

Hundreds and thousands. Maybe even millions and billions.

We also have ants or jimmies, which are the American terms for chocolate hail (the latter most popular in the northeast).

Jimmies: began as chocolate hail and then went rainbow.

Other terms for these sweet daintrels reflect the various shapes and colors of ‘sprinkle’ that are now produced: confetti (from the Italian plural of confetto “sweetmeat” or “sugarplum”; these were the original treats tossed during carnival in Italy, later morphing into tiny paper or plastic discs), pearls, sequins, as well as a myriad of holiday-themed shapes.

According to the OED, tiddlywinks is British slang for "the knick-knacks of victuals".

It just goes to show that even the tiniest things can illustrate a little language variation.  Sweetly.

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From the OED, we have dovetail initially defined as “something in the shape of a dove’s tail”.

Wow. Thanks.

Around the mid-1500s, dovetail is applied not just to things shaped like a dove’s tail, but a specific form of joinery in which a mortise and tenon are cut in complementary shapes and fitted together.  This can be applied to larger, architectural features or to smaller, cabinetmaking techniques.  Here’s an example of dovetail joints on a house.

Here is a similar construction for a drawer.

Why dove’s tails?  Why not fingers and gloves or teeth?  Let’s look.

Hmm…  Not really seeing it.

Still not seeing it.

But it is a good shot of a bird's rear-end.

Wait, wait, the OED specifies in its definition of dovetail joint that it is the “expanded tail” that inspired the term.

Now that's just silly.

Perhaps this one is better.

Ok, ok, so it kinda looks like the bottom center version of the tail.

This simply goes to show that a) language is largely a creative effort and b) it’s not just semanticists that really like birds.

That last bit - and this very birdy bird - is especially for my students!

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