Book Review: Discovering Words In the Kitchen

Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Julian Walker
Shire Books, 2010
96 pp.

I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.

Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly  from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.

So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.

Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Clichés Weren’t Born Yesterday, You Know

Happy Cliché Day to all. You could celebrate it by chasing rainbows, then a candlelight dinner followed by a moonlit walk on the beach. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry? Unless it’s a dark and stormy night. Then you should just stay in by the fireside.

There’s plenty of indoor celebrating you can do, too. You could tell someone their lips as red as a cherry or that they are fresh as a daisy. You could bore them with talk of the good old days, all the while trying to keep up with the Joneses. Or just sit back, turn on the TV and watch a “very special episode” of a sitcom or drama on TV. Those are pretty hackneyed, too, you know.

The term cliché comes from the French verb clicher, to stereotype. A cliché originally meant a metal slug or plate with movable type set in it already, used to print common words. This saved time for the printer. It came to mean a common word or phrase that is used constantly, and thus becomes tired and boring.

And hackneyed, which also means  tired, used-up, and dull-as-dishwater (and by the way, dull-as-dishwater? another cliché!) – comes from the obscure old verb hackney, which means to use a horse for ordinary, general purposes. The hackney horse was a very sturdy trotting horse. And hackney was the English term for a horse-drawn carriage, probably from the London district of Hackney, where many horses were kept at pasture (before urbanization of course). A hackney came to mean a taxicab in the 20th century, and they are still called hacks in England.

A hack writer works rapidly and sloppily, and uses lots of clichés and tired old bits all shoved together, in order to meet deadlines and make money quickly. Example, used in a sentence: As NaNoWriMo rolls on I will resist the urge to NaNoHackMo.

So let’s all get on the same page, for time is of the essence-  we’ll all jump on the bandwagon and get this party started! Because though clichés are trite, they are kind of fun, too. That goes without saying.

Are there any particular clichés that annoy you, or ones that you can’t help using? Do tell!

Cliche Finder
Writing Cliches To Avoid from (good advice for people trying to write novels in a hurry, eh what?)
Lots of cliches at 

The picture of the hackney is from Britannica.
The picture of cliches is from Pad Printing India – as you can see, they are still used in printing.


Somebody used the word hoopla at dinner the other night (I don’t remember why) and I started wondering where in the world that word came from. I thought maybe the la part came from the French for ‘there’ as in voila. That’s as far as I got before I went off to the dictionary.

Hoopla was first used to mean hullabaloo (another great word) about 1875. It was a carnival term used by the people who ran the games where you toss hoops onto wooden stakes: the game itself was called hoop-la. The carnies shouted out ‘hoopla’ when someone was winning, apparently. I guess it meant: Oh look, the hoops are flying! Soon you will win a cheapo prize.

Hoop-La was also a 1933 Clara Bow movie, her last one. In it, she plays a dancer at a carnival and there is romance and so on. Clara absolutely was the queen of hoopla on and off the screen, although her official moniker was the It Girl. We’ll have to talk about which It she was the Girl of another time, though. Maybe I’ll do my first retro celebrity post on her.

Diamond Life

The word ‘diamond’ comes from the Old French word diamant which in turn came from the Latin adamas. Adamas was originally used to describe several kinds of stone; later, the variant word diamas was used to refer specifically to diamonds. Adamas may have come in turn from the old Persian word aziman meaning lodestone (the mineral magnetite, a natural magnet; lodestone meant ‘leading stone’ in Old English).

So ‘diamond’ is a cousin of the adjective ‘adamant,’ meaning stubborn and immovable. Since the diamond is the hardest gemstone, this makes sense.

The Hope and the Koh-i-Noor Diamonds are two of the most famous diamonds in the world. The 105 carat Koh-i-Noor is supposed to have given the owner the power to rule the world. It originally belonged to the rulers of Persia; it is now in the British Imperial State Crown, in the Tower of London. The 45.52 carat Hope Diamond is greyish blue, and forms the pendant of a diamond necklace that is now in the Smithsonian (it’s on your right). People once thought that it had been stolen from an Indian statue, but it actually was cut from a blue diamond that was part of the French crown jewels. Legend has it that it was cursed, and brought bad luck to its owners. Wilkie Collins based the stolen diamond of his mystery novel The Moonstone (1868) on stories about the Koh-i-Noor and Hope Diamonds.

The Hope Diamond is one of the subset called fancy colored diamonds. They are the rarest diamonds, being not white, but nearly any other color: various shades of pink, champagne (beige), yellow, blue, purple, green, or black, for example. My favorites are the pink diamonds, not that I’m in the market or anything. I’m just looking, thanks. The gorgeous pink diamond above is the Darya-ye-Noor (Sea of Light), one of the Iranian crown jewels. It is rather nice, don’t you think?

Skaty-Eight Thingamabobs

So there you are trying to explain something to someone else – or describe something that you saw. You don’t quite know what to call it? No worries. That means you get to use some fun nonsense words.

Is that blob on the floor a doohickey, a gubbins or a hickeymadoodle? If it’s something old, maybe it is a jigamaree, which word was thought up by some funny people in the 1820s. If it’s really old, call it a thingumbob – that word was used from about 1750 on, though nowadays we say thingamajig or thingamabob.

Anything else is just a whatchamacallit or a whozis. I have quite a lot of these on my desk and in the night table drawers. An extra bonus is that they sound like characters out of Dr. Seuss.

Where did all these words originate? Hard to tell. A doohickey used to mean a pimple (and by association other small things). Gubbins was an WWI British Army term for a bit of leftover food or a gadget. Otherwise, my slang reference books really didn’t say. I guess one person makes up a word it catches on. Well, they are fun to say.

Another question is just how many of these thingies have you got? Maybe too many to count: a jillion, skaty-eight, scads or just a smidge. If it’s our kitchen floor and the cats are busy playing with stuff, there probably are a skadillion hair-elastic dinguses down there. And for the umpty-umpth time, too.

Image from Wikimedia. I don’t know what it is, either. Just some doo-dads in a box.

Word History: The Stooge

So last time I said I’d write about the Three Stooges. Maybe. I said maybe I would! So this is halfway about them, in a roundabout way. It’s really late at night and I started wondering where the word ‘stooge’ came from. So that’s where we’re going with this.

According to some sources, the slang word ‘stooge’ was a short version of ‘stage assistant’ or perhaps of ‘student’ (mispronounced ‘stoojent’) which was first used about 1913. More specifically it means somebody who feeds lines to the main comedian in an act – sort of a straight man, but lowlier than that. The stooge is the target of the jokes, too. Not someone you’d particularly want to be. So I suppose Curly and Larry were actually Moe’s stooges – which is bad, because that’s being a Stooge’s stooge. A metastooge, perhaps.

Stooge at the Online Etymology Dictionary
Stooge at Wordia
Three Stooges at Wikipedia (whence the image)

Slang Of the Day: Gaposis

This would be the slang word of the day, which I chose at random from my beloved Wentworth and Flexner’s 1960 opus, Dictionary of American Slang. It was one of my favorite books as a kid, since I love words and weird little facts (so learning obscure slang terms is just about perfect).

Ever heard the term gaposis? It’s the condition you (or rather your clothing) is suffering from when there’s little gaps in your buttoned shirt because it is too small. Or when your Gap jeans (so to speak) don’t button up. Lying down usually solves the problem! Just like when you have a headache, minus the aspirin. Although, if the gaposis is severe, you might find it causes a headache.

Sounds like this was a mid-20th century term that didn’t really catch on. I like it, though.

The store name Gap comes from the term “the generation gap,” according to my pal Wikipedia, since it was founded in 1969 and this was a groovy slang term then, and all that. I remember the Gap in the 1980s and it was not a bit fancy, not at all the place it is today. I bought black chinos there and they (the chinos) were shiny and uncool. I wore them once. I don’t remember if there was any gaposis involved, though.