In response to this post, I received an e-mail from Pete Wells, Dining Editor of The New York Times, in which he quoted what he’d written to Bill Poser:
Several readers have written us about this passage in a recent post of yours on Language Log:
Reader Jim Gordon wondered about this and emailed the author of the article. Her response: she and her consultants and editors were aware of the correct name and etymology but thought that some readers might be put off by the notion of rotten food, so they changed the name a little and made up a fake etymology.
Now I haven’t seen the letter Mr. Gordon received, but I can tell you that the author of the article did not “make up a fake etymology.” The chef in the article gave us the etymology herself and we quickly double-checked it on deadline and found it in the Wikipedia entry on “olla podrida.”
Granted, Wikipedia is not what I’d consider a completely reliable source, but it does at least suggest that the “poderida” etymology is out there somewhere and did not spring to life in Wednesday’s New York Times.
We’re doing some more research into the question to see if we can find an early document referring to “olla poderida” but in the meantime I wanted to let you know that the state of journalism is not quite as far gone as you might have imagined.
As I told Pete Wells, next time they should consult a dictionary rather than Wikipedia, but reliance on unreliable sources is a hell of a lot better than simply making stuff up, so I withdraw my call for tarring and feathering and resume my previous attitude of generalized suspicion. And a tip of the Languagehat hat to Mr. Wells for taking the issue seriously enough to respond.