rumination 8: edible etymology…

Do you ever wonder why certain things have certain names?  I do. All the time.

For example, why did Kansas City incorporate in Missouri? Wherefore Margaret morphed into Peggy? And in the name of all that’s innocent and pure, how did poor old Richard arrive at Dick?  Or did a string of really naughty Richards…?  More on Dicks later.

Some people have an over-active bladder. I have an over-active mind.

Of course, if you know of the famous bicycle race by the same name, a connection between the round, wheel-like structure of the French pastry, the “Paris-Brest,” might be obvious.  Or, if you’ve ever seen a bluefoot mushroom, you’ll know how it got its name, or if you knew that Sam German developed a chocolate bar for Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852, you’d realize that non-Deutsch German Chocolate Cake is really German’s Chocolate Cake. And if you’ve ever eaten “sh*t on a shingle,” or the famous Rochester (New York) “garbage plate,” you’ll certainly agree that the glove fits.

But there are some culinary word puzzles that I haven’t yet resolved.

Though I’ve surfed the net for answers, who’s to say that the pile of unsubstantiated web explanations I’ve found are any more accurate (or entertaining) than what I could come up with on my own.  Here’s some edible etymology for thought. If you can help itch my curiosity with an answer or explanation for the following words, I’d love to hear it.

Red Herrings

Chipped Beef – Speaking of sh*t on a shingle, ne le comprend pas.  What’s chipped about the beef?

Croques Madame et Monsieur – I think I know why madame gets the egg.  But I’d love to know from whence the “co-ed” nomenclature.

Doughnut – I get the “dough” half of the word.  Where did the “nut” come from?

Egg Cream – Yet they contain no eggs.  Corrupted Yiddish?

Entrée – Main course, or the first course en francais? I’ve visited this one before.

Hot Dog – This one not only confuses foreigners, it confuses me too. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but please tell me the story of how a bun-bound sausage became a dog.

Hummingbird Cake – Because it’s sweet like nectar?

Chicken/Tuna “Salad” – This one simply loses me.  Is mayonnaise the dressing, the celery the “green?”  Or is salad synonymous with “hodge podge,” which would make “pasta,” “macaroni,” and “rice” salads much more palatable, cognitively, that is.

Sweetbreads – Neither sweet nor bread-like (in my opinion), how the thymus gland (sometimes thyroid, other times pancreas) of a calf or lamb came to acquire this vaguely misleading name is a mystery to me.


Buckle – See “Betty” below.

Grunt – See “Betty” below.

Slider – I suppose if it’s greasy enough, it’ll slide?

Names & Places

Betty – “Crisps,” “crumbles,” and “cobblers,” I understand.  But who’s Betty?

Johnny Cakes – The name of a famous pancake flipper in Ye Olde Diner in Colonial America?

Monte Cristo – Named by a Dumas-lover?

Napoleon – Short, squat, with a tendency for pomposity? Is that the link?  There really is no proof.

Pommes Anna – Yes, I know, wiki says it’s named after either (Anna) Damiens, DesLions, or Untel. Or, maybe, the creator, Adolphe Dugléré was quite the player?

Reuben – Regardless of which of the stories about this sandwich’s origins is true, bless Reuben’s soul.

Spotted Dick – The “spotted” part makes sense when you see the dried fruit speckling the steamed cake. But why the Dick?

~ by ulterior epicure on March 13, 2010.

4 Responses to “rumination 8: edible etymology…”

  1. RE: Salads – The first time my wife went to a family holiday dinner, my Grandma asked her if she wanted salad. My wife said sure and my Grandma proceeded to spoon whip cream, fruit and marshmallows on her plate.

  2. Not sure, but I think johnny cakes is a corruption of journey cakes, so called because they traveled well. Soldiers, workers and travelers could put them in their pockets and eat on the go, sort of a 19th century version of drive-throughs.

  3. Grunts are so named based on the sound of the steam from the simmering fruit escaping from under the dumplings.

    Honestly, don’t remember where I read that – Cook’s Illustrated, perhaps?

  4. The first doughnuts were more like what we today call doughnut holes, little friend “nuts” of dough.

    The specifics are lost, but the “hot dog” nomenclature surely comes from the resemblance to the shape of the dachshund.

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