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13 June 2011

Monday's word - Pottage

Borrowing from my favourite 'Wordsmith' Michael Quinnion, here's one for those of you who write historical fiction.

Here's what he says:

"Old-time cookery could at its best be as sophisticated in its own way as ours is today, but for ordinary people it often consisted of variations on the theme of putting ingredients in a pot of water
and boiling them. The name of one such ancient dish appears in a moderately well-known expression:

    Ford was certain of only one thing: he did not intend to ... sell humanity's birthright for a mess of
    [Methuselah's Children, by Robert Heinlein, 1963.]"
(Great book that, by the way, if you enjoy Science Fiction!)

He goes on: Those who know the Bible will recognise the allusion to the story of Jacob and Esau in Chapter 25 of Genesis. The expression "sell one's birthright for a mess of pottage" isn't in the 1611 King
James Bible, but is a heading in the 1560 Geneva Bible.  Pottage
comes from French "potage", a word that may still be found on the
menus of posh English restaurants, which meant something put into a
pot, hence a stew - the Biblical original was made from lentils...

...Pottages were important in medieval cookery - pottage, bread and ale were the staples for much of the population. For ordinary people pottages were often no more than oatmeal, stewed roots or boiled vegetables, as in the pease pottage that some of us remember from the children's rhyme:

    Pease pottage hot,
    Pease pottage cold,
    Pease pottage in a pot,
    Nine days old.
    ["Pease", from Old English "pise", peas, is the  original form, usually plural, that led to "pea" being
    mistakenly created as the singular.]

If you'd like to know more about this interesting word the full version on on Michael Quinnion's site here:


*World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 2011. All rights reserved The  original post can be found at:  http://www.worldwidewords.org

I'd be interested to know if my American friends know this word - I certainly remember the rhyme from my childhood in Wales, but wonder if it's travelled across the pond?

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