Friday, June 06, 2008

Dictionary Friday: Word Origins

Not exactly a standard word-and-definition Dictionary post. I've been reading (slowly) Bill Bryson's book about English, The Mother Tongue. It's not the quickest book I've ever read - it's densely written - but it's full of intereting little facts. Like these:
Asparagus was for 200 years called sparrow-grass.

Hmm. We had asparagus last night, too. It was, unfortunately, a tiny bit past it's expiration date. Plus, I overcooked it (and I NEVER do that). Still. Asparagus. Delicious.
The Italians do not use brio and although they do use al fresco, to them it signifies not being outside, but being in prison.

Really. Huh. I also liked this passage about Italian and English food words:
The Italians, as we might expect, have over 500 names for different types of macaroni. Some of these, when translated, begin to sound distinctly unappetizing, like strozzapreti, which means "strangled priests." Vermicelli means "little worms" and even spaghetti means "little strings." When you learn that muscatel in Italian means "wine with flies in it," you may conclude that the Italians are gastronomically out to lunch, so to speak, but really their names for foodstuffs are no more disgusting than our hot dogs or those old English favorites, toad-in-the-hole, spotted kick and faggots in gravy.

Every paragraph is like this, which is why it's taking me forever to read. I'm not even halfway through yet (it's short, though, at only 245 pages) but already I've learned a lot. Fortunately, I'm sure I'll be able to put most of it out of my mind the next time I settle into some vermicelli.

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