10. Thanksgiving Words With Bizarre Origins
Here now, the uncommon origins for ten common Thanksgiving words.
10.Mirth And Merriment
or “pleasure.” These words are themselves derived from an
older German root meaning “short-lasting.” Thus, something merry
is short-lived—although the consequences may not be.
, such as a merry-bout of sexual intercourse. And sometimes a merry-bout
resulted in a “merry-begot,” an illegitimate child. However, since 12 percent
was a short-lived pleasure after all.
"I have known
the shooting star
to spoil a night’s rest;
and have seen a
man in love grow
pale, and lose
his appetite, upon
the plucking of
The word merry also gave us the merrythought, which we now call
the wishbone. The custom of pulling apart the wishbone dates back
Etruscan practice of alectryomancy, the practice of divining
the future using rooster clavicles.
According to Roman legend, the Etruscans selected the wishbone
of life. Thus, the wishbone was seen as an appropriate way to
unravel life’s mysteries. The resemblance of the bone to a
woman’s pudenda has also been said to be responsible for it
being given the name “merrythought.”
In the 17th century, it was sometimes thought that whoever ended
clever play on words. Alternatively, it was believed that the person
with the longer piece would get whatever wish he chose, a custom
firmly entrenched by the 19th century. English settlers brought the
practice with them to the New World, and we still pull the wishbone
Whether it’s called a merrythought or a wishbone, the proper term
for the bone we pull apart on Thanksgiving is “furcula.” It comes from
the Latin furca, meaning “pitchfork.” Before becoming the word for
what was then a two-pronged utensil, the term was used in England to
refer to a forked instrument used by torturers, so you might want to be
careful about saying “stick a fork in me, I’m done” after you’ve eaten too
many mashed potatoes.
until the eighth or ninth century, and then only by the nobility in parts of
what is now the Middle East. Popular legend has it that Catherine dei
of France in the 16th century. However, the use of the word to mean a table
fork is first attested in English some hundred years earlier.
meaning “to drink.” But it may be that beer derives from an old
Germanic word for barley, the grain from which it is generally
brewed. This is questionable, however, since the native
Germanic word for beer was aluth, from which we get our English
The origins of aluth, in turn, are unclear. One possibility is that it
came from an Indo-European root meaning “bitter.” Another is that
it came from alu—a root with connotations of sorcery, magic, or
possession—so when your obnoxious Uncle Al spills a frosty one
on you during the game, just smile and tell him it’s enchanting. Ale
also gave us the English word “bridal,” because in the Middle Ages,
ale was a noun that meant a feast. A bride ale was literally a feast in
honor of a marriage—followed, no doubt, by a merry-bout.
Over time, the “thank” form of “think” evolved to refer to favorable
thoughts and, eventually, gratitude. So if you think the turkey was
be sure to express your thanks—otherwise, your hostess may
meal went thunk.
While we are thinking merry thoughts, let’s take a look at the word
“Thanksgiving” itself. The “thank” in Thanksgiving comes from
latter of which was once proper English. Although we no longer
follow this pattern for the word “think,” we still use it with the verbs
“drink” and “clink.” Note, however, that the “thunk” form of “think”
is unrelated to the word “thunk,” meaning “thud.” That word is
Columbus and the crew of his fourth American voyage. They called the
animalgallina de la tierra, or “land chicken.”
to the guinea fowl. The origins of the word “turkey” to refer to a bird that
is native to America are uncertain, but it may be because it was once
confused by the similarity of the land chicken to the bird they knew as a
turkey, so it was named by mistake. Though turkeys were common
fare for early American settlers, they didn’t become part of the
Thanksgiving tradition until around the mid-19th century.
For many people, the herb sage is associated with Thanksgiving,
but historically, sage’s primary use has been medicinal. This is reflected
in its botanical name, Salvia officinalis. In Latin, salvus meant “healthy,”
treat inflamed gums, excessive perspiration, memory loss, depression,
sore throat, swollen sinuses, acne, toenail fungus, hot flashes,
and painful menstruation, among other things. Because sage is also used
to combat diarrhea, gas, and bloating, it’s the perfect herb for a holiday
that often results in gustatory overindulgence.
The word “sage” meaning “wise” is unrelated to the herb. That sage comes
from a Latin root meaning “to taste.” Taking all three meanings of the
word literally, sage in your Thanksgiving dinner is tasty, healthy, and wise.
Cranberries grow not in water, as commonly believed, but in bogs.
They are sometimes referred to as bogberries or, less accurately, as
fenberries or marshworts. Cranberries are, however, often floated in
increases their exposure to sunlight. More sunlight helps cranberries
develop greater concentrations of anthocyanins, the phytonutrients
believed to give cranberries antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cranberries are a popular treatment for urinary tract infections and believed
by some to prevent cancer.
without some form
cranberry sauce or
The cran- in
the bird called a crane.
This may be due to the
the plant’s stamen and the
beak of a crane.
with gelatin, thereby negating the candy’s original healing
d making them unsuitable for vegetarians.
Marshmallow has been used for more than 2,000 years as
well as food. The root and leaves contain a gummy substance
mucilage. When mixed with water, the mucilage forms a
which coats the throat and stomach and reduces irritation.
In the 19th
century, people would take juice from marshmallow roots
and cook it
with egg whites and sugar. The cooked mixture was whipped
foamy meringue and allowed to harden, creating a medicinal
candy to soothe sore throats.
grow in marshes,
the plant known
althein, meaning “to heal.”
Tofu, for those of you who don’t know, is fermented soy
bean curd. It
is valued for its high protein content, as well as its ability to
flavors from other foods. Tofu is probably best enjoyed without
to us from Chinese dou(“beans”) and fu (“rotten”).And so as
leave out the vegetarians, we conclude with Tofurky, a turkey
gluten, oil, and “natural flavors,” which include certain yeasts that
And on that merry note, Happy Thanksgiving.
Ms. Sneha Patel