Friday 29 November 2013


                   10. Thanksgiving Words With Bizarre Origins

Here now, the uncommon origins for ten common Thanksgiving words.

10.Mirth And Merriment

Both mirth and merry come from an Old English word meaning “joy”
 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.

In the 17th century, the word “merry” could include decidedly earthier connotations
, 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
 of all 17th century babies died in their first year, perhaps a merry-begot 
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
 a merry-thought.”
 -The Right 
Honorable Joseph

The word merry also gave us the merrythought, which we now call
 the wishbone. The custom of pulling apart the wishbone dates back 
at least to Roman times and may have evolved from the
 Etruscan practice of alectryomancy, the practice of divining
 the future using rooster clavicles.
According to Roman legend, the Etruscans selected the wishbone
 because its “V” shape resembled a human groin, the repository 
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
 up with the longer piece of the merrythought would marry first, a 
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
 apart today.


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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.

Although the fork seems like an obvious tool, it was not used for eating
 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 
Medici brought the fork to France from Italy when she married King Henry I 
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.

Latin may also have given us the word “beer,” from bibere,
 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
 word “ale.”
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 
think her
 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
 the same Germanic root as “think”—as in think, thank, thunk, the
 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 
mid-20th century blend of “thud” and “clunk.”



The first Europeans to see what we call a turkey were likely Christopher
 Columbus and the crew of his fourth American voyage. They called the
 animalgallina de la tierra, or “land chicken.”
The word “turkey” is short for “Turkey cock,” a term that originally referred 
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
 brought to England via Turkey. Pilgrims to the New World became 
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,”
 a word that also gave us the English “safe.” Sage has been used to
 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
 water during harvesting, which makes them easier to harvest and
 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.
No Thanksgiving 
 would be
without some form 
cranberry sauce or
The cran- in 
the bird called a crane.
 This may be due to the 
resemblance between
 the plant’s stamen and the
 beak of a crane.


Today’s commercial marshmallow candies don’t actually
 any marshmallow. Instead, commercial marshmallows are
 with gelatin, thereby negating the candy’s original healing
 properties an
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
 slick gel, 
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
 into a
 foamy meringue and allowed to harden, creating a medicinal
 candy to soothe sore throats.
While cranberries 
don’t actually 
grow in marshes, 
the plant known 
as the
 marsh mallow,
 or marshmallow, 
 the Greek 
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
of the origins of the word—literally “rotten beans,” which
 to us from Chinese dou(“beans”) and fu (“rotten”).And so as
 not to
 leave out the vegetarians, we conclude with Tofurky, a turkey 
created in 2000 by Turtle Island Foods. Tofurky is madefrom tofu
, wheat 
gluten, oil, and “natural flavors,” which include certain yeasts that
Tofurky a “meaty” taste.Photo credit: What’s Cooking America.

And on that merry note, Happy Thanksgiving.


Ms. Sneha Patel

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