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10 October 2009

Monday's Word - scrumping

My word this week is not very likely to be one that you're likely to use when writing a romance novel, but 'apple scrumping' is a something I remember was a favourite practice of youngsters at applie harvest time when I was a little girl. (ah so long ago, but it seems like only yesterday, *grin*)

According to Michael Quinion*: "It might sound like an immemorial practice, and probably is, but the word for it is surprisingly modern - the earliest example is from 1866. The source is uncertain but seems to be from a dialect term meaning something withered, shrivelled or dried up. It may be linked to the old adjective "scrimp", scanty or meagre, from which we get the verb "scrimp", to economise or be thrifty.

Support for this comes from an early meaning of 'scrumping', which referred to taking windfalls or the small apples left on the trees after harvest. This evolved into illicitly taking any sort of
apples. It can even more broadly mean theft of any kind, though this is rare."

'Scrumpy' is a cheap and rough, though strongly alcoholic, variety of British cider, which, Michael Quinion goes on, "is a hazard to the unwary. Its name is a relative of 'scrumping' in its
oldest sense because it was often brewed from small or unselected apples. Modern brands that go by that name are mild compared with the vinegary farm-made sort of old, which a farmer described to me in Herefordshire many years ago as 'squeal-pig cider', this being the noise you made when you tried it. 'It used to take three people to swallow a mug of it,' another old countryman told me, 'One to drink and the other two to hold him upright.' "

I've had the odd taste of home brewed 'scrumpy' at country fairs and shows, although I'm not really much of a drinker, and it's certainly strong stuff. I remember purchasing a container of this stuff and when I got home I left it outside the door for some reason. In the middle of the night we were woken by a loud explosion. The scrumpy had exploded, perhaps because it had been shaken up too much on the journey home. Whatever the cause, I was very glad it was outside and not inside!

Getting back to our word, if your heroine is going through a hard time, and having to 'scrimp and save' you might take a moment to reflect that the word 'scrimp' has its origins in the old rural pastime of 'scrumping' for apples. Did any of you do this when you were youngsters? If so, did you ever get caught?

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org