Language is like songs, like food, like dance-it is the expression of what we think.

Holly Near


Dirt Words


Well, I missed Earth Day by just a bit, but here are some food words that ‘grew’ out of the dirt under our feet…

Compote.  At work we serve a Dutch oven pancake with berry compost…I mean, compote.  I try not to make that mistake while describing the thin, light breakfast food to a customer.  But in reality, compote and compost are etymologically the same.  Compote is stewed fruit, and the word comes from old French ‘composte’ and means ‘a mixture’.  This is also the same origin for the word ‘compost’, as in the fertilizer.

Hummus.  No party is complete without a bowl of organic matter turned to soil and eaten on a chip.  Or wait…are those chickpeas they use?  Subtract one ‘m’ from hummus and you get the good, rich dirt that will feed your chickpeas.  Hummus and humus are both also related to the word human.  In the Middle East, hummus, the dip, is just about as old as man himself.  It is considered one of the oldest known foods and dates back to Ancient Egypt.

Garbage.  The word garbage comes from the Old French term garbeGarbe means ‘a bundle of sheaves, entrails’.  Now we use the word ‘garbage’ for anything that we throw out, but it used to only mean the giblets of an animal.  Giblets are the heart, gizzard, liver and other visceral organs that not everyone has the stomach for.

Muddled.  Mojitos make scorching summer days just a little bit better.  Directions for the perfect mojito say to bathe some mint in mud, and shake that with rum, lime juice and sugar.  Pour over ice and add some club soda.  On second thought, that doesn’t sound quite right.  Originally, the word ‘muddle’ meant to bathe something in mud.  Then the definition changed to ‘destroying the clarity of an object’ which can still be used today. We also use it to describe mashing something.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our dirty Earth words.  Do you still have an appetite?  No?

Ops.  Sorry 🙂

Friday Quiz

What is the drink made with wine that references blood by it’s name? Think Spanish…



Perhaps you’ve heard the nickname BW3.  Another common nickname for the joint is B-dubs.  But Buffalo Wild Wings only has two w’s so why the 3?  The trendy wings spot was started in Ohio by a New Yorker who couldn’t find a wings restaurant in Kent.  The original name was Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck.  Mystery solved! But what on earth is weck?

Weck is a type of Kaiser roll topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds.  While a Kaiser roll goes well with savory or sweet toppings, a weck (short for kummelweck) is always savory and is often served as the bread for a roast beef sandwich.  Kümmel means caraway in German.  Weck means roll in some southern parts of Germany.  In most other parts of Germany they say brotchen.  Kaiser, the parent roll of the kummelweck, means ‘king’ and was invented in Vienna to honor Emperor Franz Joseph.  In America, especially New York, a ‘weck’ is thought of as a roast beef sandwich, often referred to as ‘beef on weck’.



In slang, a Brit can be referred to as a ‘limey’.  Where did this term come from?  Originally, it was a term used only for a sailor in the British navy.  It is short for “lime-juicer”.  It began when the British navy would issue their soldiers a daily dose of ‘grog’, or watered down rum; most of the time lime was added to this.  The lime was meant to improve the flavor, but a happy side effect was that it would prevent scurvy while on long sea journeys as well.  Eventually this term came to encompass any Brits when someone wanted to refer to them in a slightly derogatory way.  Don’t know why it’s derogatory though; ‘limeys’ weren’t suffering scurvy!



The definition of the word ‘companion’ is “A person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels.”  But break it up and you can see the latin words ‘com’ and ‘pan’ in there.  ‘Com’ means ‘with’ like the ‘con’ in Spanish, and ‘pan’ means bread just like ‘pan’ in Spanish or ‘pain’ in French.  So literally a ‘companion’ is someone with whom you break bread. 

Corks and Labels


When you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant the waiter should hand you the cork.  There are a few things you can gauge by looking at the cork.  You can check to see that it isn’t completely dry or that the wine hasn’t leaked all the way through.  But something that I didn’t know was that you are also supposed to check the label on the cork to make sure that it matches the label on the bottle.  This is probably mostly a problem of the past, but crooked business owners used to apply the label of expensive bottles of wine to cheaper bottles to make a larger profit.  The wineries caught on to this, and to protect against this practice started labeling the cork, which cannot simply be swapped out.

When wine is bottled it sits on the shelf without a label until they know where they are going to ship it.  Then depending on its destination, it is given a label in the appropriate language and with the appropriate requirements.  On rare occasions, a winery will make a labeling error.  If you notice this error you should mention it to the waiter, but you might have actually received an error in your favor.  In this case, the waiter should be gracious enough to let you benefit from your good fortune and allow you to keep the bottle.

Friday Quiz

What is the difference between confectioner’s sugar and powdered sugar?  Good luck!



I was in the kitchen of the restaurant where I work, baking some bread pudding which calls for nutmeg.   I noticed the Spanish translation on the container read ‘nuez moscada.’  I know that ‘nuez’ is ‘nut’ but didn’t know ‘moscada’.  This got me thinking that if ‘nuez’ was ‘nut’ and ‘moscada’ was ‘meg’ did ‘meg’ have a meaning in English aside from being a girl’s name?

It turns out that “moscada” translates to “musk”.  Spanish speakers must have a much different image of nutmeg than English speakers!  Once I knew the translation, images of over-sized rats and armpits came to mind.  Suddenly it wasn’t the taste of Christmas anymore.  So is “meg” an old word for “musk”?  When referring to a girl – no – different origin.  But the ‘meg’ on ‘nutmeg’, yes, is the remnants of its old ‘musk’ origins.



Here is a random word origin that I stumbled across completely by accident.  The country Cameroon, located on the western coast of Africa, translates to ‘shrimp’.  Cameroon is commonly called ‘Africa in miniature’ because they claim to have a sampling of everything Africa has to offer, culturally and geographically, including an amazing 200 linguistic groups in one small country.  Cameroon earned its name from the Portuguese explorers who named the river they found, Rio dos Cameroes, or ‘Shrimp River’. Perhaps you are familiar with the Mexican dish ‘coctel de camaron’ which means ‘shrimp cocktail’.

Cameroon is of course not the only country name that relates to food.  Turkey, as in the bird, is named as such because Europe got their first turkeys from Turkish traders.  The Turkish, however, got their turkeys from India, so in the Turkish language, turkeys are ‘hindi’ or literally translated as “Indian”.  In French, turkey (the bird) is called ‘dinde’ which is a contraction of ‘poulet d’inde’ or literally ‘chicken from India’. In fact in many other languages (including Hebrew, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Estonian, Swedish, Indonesian), turkeys are actually associated with the country India, not Turkey.

Pavo‘ is the Spanish name for turkey, which is a bit of an outlier.  ‘Pavo’ means ‘peacock’ and comes from Latin.  Many other languages use a word like ‘pavo’ to mean peacock, but Spanish is the only one I found that groups turkeys and peacocks together like this (‘pavo real’ or ‘royal peacock’ being the name used to distinguish peacocks from turkeys).

My favorite name for the bird, however, is in Japanese and Korean, ‘shichimencho‘ and ‘chilmyeonjo‘, respectively, which mean ‘seven-faced bird’.  This comes from the ability of the turkey to change its face depending on its mood.  I like this concept for the novelty, but it doesn’t make me want a ‘seven-faced bird and Swiss cheese sandwich’.

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