Agogo, Lampopo.

Two funny-sounding and assonant words that have struck me recently:

English agogo ‘An agogo bell, a bell used in Yoruba and Brazilian music and typically played in pairs’ is from Portuguese agogô, from Yoruba agogo ‘bell, gong; clock, timepiece,’ “possibly onomatopoeic,” which has given rise to loanwords in Baatonum, Hausa, Edo, Portuguese (and thence English, Japanese, and Russian), Spanish, and Mandarin.

Russian лампопо (with final stress: lampopó) is “a Russian alcoholic drink popular in the 19th century, the main ingredients of which are rusks, lemons, sugar and beer.” It is an anagram of the word пополам (popolám) ‘in two; half and half’; various hypotheses have been adduced for the name, which the curious can find provided in the linked Wikipedia article (with the assistance of translation software as needed). It’s a fun word, but I don’t think I’d care for the drink.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Agogo is “wristwatch” in Mampruli. Doesn’t seem to have made it into Kusaal, though.

    There’s a place in Ghana called “Agogo”, where I worked for a few weeks when I first arrived in the country.
    Not connected etymologically, though:

    “Lampopo” reminds me of the extremely widespread northern Ghana/Togo/Burkina word that appears in e.g. Kusaal as lampɔ “tax.” To my shame, I did not immediately recognise the source …

  2. That Ghana Place Names site is great.

  3. Christopher Culver says

    As soon as I saw that the recipe includes rusks, for me personally something forever associated with South Africa, my mind made the association with the Limpopo River in South Africa. Yet I wasn’t the first to make that association and the linked RU Wikipedia article already discounts any such etymology on solid chronological groups.

  4. Intuitively lampopó < popolám does sound like something that could appear in early 19th century among French-speaking aristocrates.

    (If anyone needs a modern joke – my friend says nalopopám instead of napopolám)

  5. If you are into Brazilian music or capoeira you learn about agogô! The description “played in pairs” is a bit misleading though. The two bells are connected by a U-shaped wire, which doubles as the handle. At least in Brazil, a single agogô comprises two bells (generally around a minor third apart in pitch) as one instrument.

    (The wikipedia article has a picture. It also says that long ago in Africa the bells might be single, but in the Brazilian context I think they’re always double.)

  6. Bells agogo!

    (Sorry. Bedtime here. Wake me up before agogo.)

  7. I was thinking along the same lines as Christopher Culver, but what was evoked for me was rather the full Kiplingesque majesty of the hydronym “the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River.” And if anyone could make an alcoholic concoction grey-green and greasy, my money’s on 19th-century Russians.

  8. In Portuguese at least the last syllable is stressed, so agogô is more like how English speakers say apropos…

  9. “the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River”

    I said that to someone as a child, only to be squelched with “I’ve seen it, and it is neither gray-green nor greasy”.

  10. The Russian version I had as a child, and which I can’t find online, rendered this as “зловонная мутно-зелёная река Лимпопо” — literally “the malodorous muddy-green…” but preserving the mesmeric effect.

    When I Google that phrase, the first result is a blog post that claims, sure enough, that it’s neither.

  11. If an anagram permutes letters, is there a different word (not necessarily English) for permutation of syllables?

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says

    There’s verlan, although French ideas of what is and isn’t a syllable confuse me.

  13. John Cowan: There’s a film, The Crocodile River, by Robert Perkins, about a 1000 mile canoe trip down the Limpopo. Perkins is a bit obsessed with that Kipling story. He stops in a village, and they want him to talk to the schoolchildren, which he does. They ask him to tell them a story, and all he can think of is the story of the Elephant Child, which they’ve never heard before. Except now they’ve heard it.

    Some future anthropologist may find that a bit of a puzzler.

    An interesting film. As I remember, some parts of the Limpopo were indeed green and greasy, although it probably depends on the time of year.

  14. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Den grågrøngrumsede Limpopoflod rolls nicely on the tongue as well, but has no grease or odor. Grumset is basically “containing particulate matter,” and implies opacity if predicated of a liquid that would otherwise be transparent. Coffee is opaque but not grumset unless the filter broke and there’s grounds in it. Spent grounds are kaffegrums.

    (There’s some pragmatics in why it’s grågrøn and not grøngrå. The latter is Not Wrong™ but a bit marked. [Because euphony, maybe, though neither is very pretty]. grumset-grøn is also cromulent, but grumset-grågrøn enters “did you think of that yourself” territory).

  15. David Marjanović says

    graugrün 2.44 Mghits
    grüngrau 3.65 Mghits, to my great surprise

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    Some future anthropologist may find that a bit of a puzzler

    I get occasional enquiries about Kusaasi culture from actual Kusaasi.

    My misstatements and misunderstandings may thus eventually become retroactively true.

  17. As an American I am completely unfamilar with the word “rusk”, don’t recall ever hearing or seeing it before today. Is that just my odd personal deficiency? Funnily enough I am very familiar with the Russian word “cухарь”, I guess it never struck me that English would even need a generic word for such a thing, given the existence of “crouton”, “melba toast” and “zwieback” (which, come to think of it, I would have thought was the “generic” American word for twice-baked bread, especially in relation to babies).

  18. David Marjanović says

    And if anyone could make an alcoholic concoction grey-green and greasy, my money’s on 19th-century Russians.

    Depending on the nail polish, 20th-century Russians probably managed to do it.

  19. The “g g-g g” description is of the Limpopo as it was in the High and Far-Off Times, and is thus not fatally contradicted by recent observations absent very strong grounds for belief in the absence of change in the relevant characteristics of the river over long timescales. Maybe some paleolimnologists have investigated and published? The other possibility might be that the Kokokolo Bird (to whom the description is first attributed) is not intended to be understood by the reader as a benign and trustworthy character.

  20. I guess it never struck me that English would even need a generic word for such a thing [“rusk”], given the existence of “crouton”, “melba toast” and “zwieback”

    As a Brit Farley’s rusks is what I’m most familiar with. (Forever fragments of those scattered around the house full of teething infants.) I don’t think post-war austerity Britain would have entertained a German name. Association with an alcoholic beverage would also be a no-no.

    “1590s, from Spanish or Portuguese rosca ” says etymonline. Crouton 1806 into English; melba toast 1897.

  21. As an American I am completely unfamilar with the word “rusk”, don’t recall ever hearing or seeing it before today. Is that just my odd personal deficiency? Funnily enough I am very familiar with the Russian word “cухарь”

    I’m in much the same situation — I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the word “rusk,” I know it only as the standard translation of cухарь.

  22. It had temporarily slipped my mind that it’s certain West Slavs rather than East Slavs who are in fact well-known even unto this current day for preparing greasy alcoholic concoctions (loosely akin to the Anglophone world’s hot buttered rum, but with bacon grease instead of butter):

  23. I dunno, “well-known” may be a stretch.

  24. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I’m quite sure that speculation about the benignity of literary narrators was beyond me when I first heard of the Limpopo, probably from my mother reading the book aloud.

  25. I dunno, “well-known” may be a stretch.

    I was going to say. I live next door to Slovakia and have visited Christmas markets in Bratislava on numerous occasions yet I am no more familiar with Hriatô than I am with “rusk”. Maybe the locals hide this from the tourists.

  26. Google translate translates “grå” from English to Russian as большая “great, large (fem.)”.
    (or wait, maybe when I google a single word in Russian-language English it just never offers a translation from anything but English? Indeed, why anyone would want to translate from anything else?)

    Grumset is basically “containing particulate matter,” and implies opacity if predicated of a liquid that would otherwise be transparent.

    Same is мутн[ый] (meanwhile there is грязный gryaznyj ‘dirty’, used in many contexts where in English you say “greasy”. There is a colour name грязно-зелёный ‘dirty green’ which is used quite often. It contains gr- but was not used here).

  27. Hriatô

    The -ô ending looks uniquely bizarre so that I was convinced it must be a mistake. But apparently it’s real, dialectal for of standard Slovak hriate. Which, until today, I believed to mean “mulled wine”, but I was clearly mistaken in that as well.

    We have a box of flavoured tea in our office kitchen with a trilingual label, saying

    HRIATE s medovou príchuťou
    SVAŘÁK s medovou příchutí
    GROG TEA méz izesítéssel

    Will have to try it now.

  28. @prase – extending a word whose historical core sense or paradigm example-referent was “mulled wine” to a wider scope of “pretty much any locally-common alcoholic concoction served hot rather than cold” seems pretty natural?

  29. Yes, extending the meaning of a word is natural. Adding bacon to drinks is not.

    (I don’t know if “mulled wine” was the primary meaning, or a meaning at all. For what it is worth, I know the word only from the tea label.)

  30. David Marjanović says

    Spices for mulled wine (Glühwein) are sold in teabags in Austria. I don’t think any tea is involved.

    Yes, extending the meaning of a word is natural. Adding bacon to drinks is not.

    It’s a Schnapsidee.

  31. @mollymooly: I searched for a term for a permutation of the syllables in a word once, in order to answer a question about Star Wars alien species.* However, I did not find find anything I considered satisfactory and settled on “syllabic anagram.”

    @Vanya: I knew the word rusk, but it’s not a term I use. (If I say “rusk,” I am almost certainly referring to the former secretary of state.) The generic term for such dessicated breads in my vocabulary is zwieback. Amusingly, I remember where I first learned that word too: the Dungeons & Dragons Book of Marvelous Magic. The author, Frank Mentzer (to whom the development of basic Dungeons & Dragons was left after the advent of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) used a lot of wordplay. There was a “bell of ball” that when rung produced a random magical ball, and a pack of cards useful against vampires called a “sun deck.” Right after the “zither of zombie control” was the equally alliterative “zwieback of zymurgy.”

    @prase: At Polliwogs Bar and Grill, their deluxe (Southern-style) bloody mary is garnished with (besides the usual celery): green olives, blue cheese, pickled okra, and a strip** of bacon. I ordered it once at brunch, on the principle that it was all things that I liked (and because everyone else at the table wanted to see it), except for the tomato juice and vodka. Yeah, I don’t actually like bloody marys. I guess this is an excuse to repost the link to the GIF of me not enjoying a bloody mary.

    * Can you guess which two species?

    ** It wouldn’t do to use rasher with such a (supposedly) American concoction.

  32. David Marjanović says

    it was all things that I liked […], except

    And that last word wasn’t enough to predict the outcome?

  33. Nah, it was fine—not something I would order again, but not specifically unpleasant. If I really hated tomato juice I wouldn’t have ordered it. The bigger problem at that meal was the chef forgot the ham on my eggs Benedict. (As I recall, the executive chef had been called in to work the brunch shift because the person who was supposed to be running the kitchen was AWOL, and he was, shall we say, out of practice cooking ordinary brunch fare.)

  34. In U.S. cocktail culture, tomato juice is almost never used as an ingredient other than in the Bloody Mary and variants thereof; similarly, animal fat is (modulo some recent “stunt” innovations) almost never used as an ingredient other than in Hot Buttered Rum and variants thereof.

  35. “Zwieback” is one of those American words I have come across few enough times never to have bothered looking up in a dictionary.

    “Rusk” I know from the aforementioned Farley’s and as a filler for some sausages and processed meats.

    animal fat is … almost never used as an ingredient

    Cream is not uncommon in cocktails. If dairy fats are excluded then so is Hot Buttered Rum.

    Can you guess which two species

    I can only remember two Star Wars species, so— yes I can

  36. January First-of-May says

    “Zwieback” is one of those American words I have come across few enough times never to have bothered looking up in a dictionary.

    Ditto. I’m not sure if I recognized the word at all, and I feel like I’d have probably assumed it was some kind of road feature.

    I don’t recognize “rusk” either, though (in fact I don’t even recall having ever seen the word before); can’t think of any English word for сухарь except the trivial “dried bread”.
    Google says there’s also “crackers” and “croutons” (which to me are much more specific than Russian сухарь, especially the former, which is a kind of biscuit and hardly shares any referents with the Russian word at all), and the finely-crushed version used in cooking is apparently just “breadcrumbs” without specifying which kind of bread it comes from.

    I can only remember two Star Wars species

    Hutts and Twi’leks, I’m guessing? But if so, neither of those has a particularly interesting syllabification.
    I can’t think of all that many Star Wars species offhand either, but I do know that there’s a good deal more than two.

    (Syllabic rearrangements – don’t recall under which name – came up a lot in Rohl’s New Chronology, as part of his special-pleading identification of Sumerian King List names with Biblical patriarchs. I found a lot of his arguments actually fairly convincing, but not those specific ones, and I hadn’t read the first volume which is reportedly even worse.)

  37. Brett means Wookiees and Ewoks.

  38. mollymooly is entirely right that I was somehow putting “cream” and “butter” into different conceptual buckets in my mind even while using a hypernym that encompassed them both. Only a few generations ago in mainstream American cooking (and probably still in certain ethnic enclaves) “butter” and “lard” were thought of as potential substitutes in many contexts and thus (for some purposes) in the same conceptual bucket.* Collected/hardened leftover bacon grease is not a perfect substitute for pure lard-as-such, but if you were a Child of the Depression like my mother was you thought it was close enough and saved it in the fridge for future use rather than wastefully discarding it. (My mother did eventually stop doing this. But after I was grown and out of the house, I think.)

    *Presumably the confluence of a number of factors is responsible for the marginalization of lard in “mainstream” unmarked American cookery in recent decades (it’s a change that’s happened within my own lifetime). Don’t know if anyone has written about that at length – could be an interesting narrative if done well.

  39. I finally learned what chili size is. It was on menus everywhere when I lived in Los Angeles, it didn’t make any sense, and because it was so common, I was embarrassed to ask what it was. I recently realized I hadn’t seen it since I left LA years ago, and that it’s a regional thing. And now there’s Uncle Internet, of whom to ask embarrassing questions.

  40. Interesting history, thanks!

  41. 1. As an example of the sort of recent “stunt” usage of animal fats in cocktails, here’s directions for how to use goose fat as an indirect ingredient (you infuse vodka with it, which you’d better plan on doing the day before you want to actually mix/drink the cocktail) in a recipe that purportedly won some sort of competition in 2016. The pre-infused technique may seem classier than what the Slovaks do, but frankly it comes down to the difference between drinks served hot and drinks served cold, because certain ingredients that will mix together of their own accord when hot enough won’t do so at room temperature much less stirred-or-shaken-with-ice temperature.

    2. Of more purely lexicographic interest, there’s been a recent vogue among cutting-edge American mixologists to use the word “fat” to refer to sugar (or sugar-containing syrups/liqueurs/etc.), as a way of describing the way the presence of such ingredients (not “fats” in a conventional nutritional/dietary/chemical sense) affects the texture and mouthfeel of the resultant cocktail, as distinguished from the flavor. You can see that usage on display in this piece:

  42. David Marjanović says

    *Presumably the confluence of a number of factors is responsible for the marginalization of lard in “mainstream” unmarked American cookery in recent decades (it’s a change that’s happened within my own lifetime). Don’t know if anyone has written about that at length – could be an interesting narrative if done well.

    Same all over the West, in the same timeframe. I think the factors are the following: 1) vegetable oils seen as less bad for your health; 2) reduced lard production because leaner pork came to be seen as less bad for your health; 3) fashion.

  43. PlasticPaddy says

    Do you still see it as a bread spread, i.e alternative to Frischkäse?

  44. David Marjanović says

    That’s rare, but does still occur.

    The default bread spread has long been butter, BTW – but I’m not sure if lard wasn’t in that position once.

  45. When I was a kid, I took an after-hours ceramics class. I took to singing a song while working with the clay, with the words “Limpopo, Limpopo; Limpopo, Limpopo…”, to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”. The teacher thought it was funny. She was an exceptionally nice and easygoing person and would quietly guffaw at things. Many years later I learned that her husband was the linguist Robert Lees, one of Chomsky’s ardent evangelists.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    Says WP:

    Lees was known as a fierce partisan of Chomsky’s brand of linguistics and could be withering in his criticism. A famous example is his response when informed that Nelson Francis had received a grant to produce the Brown Corpus: “That is a complete waste of your time and the government’s money. You are a native speaker of English; in ten minutes you can produce more illustrations of any point in English grammar than you will find in many millions of words of random text.”

    I actually remembered the dismissive putdown, but not the perpetrator. I shall now carefully forget him again.

    I can’t fit “Limpopo, Limpopo; Limpopo, Limpopo…” to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.” How did you scan it?

  47. The first syllable falls on each beat: C C C, G E C, D D D, b a g. 𝅘𝅥 𝅘𝅥𝅮 𝅘𝅥 𝄾 for each one.

    On Lees, contrariwise, Ken Hale also said, “One day, to show Bob that I had ‘grown up’, I made a disparaging remark about fieldwork. Then is when I really understood what Bob was all about. He said: ‘Listen, fieldwork and descriptive linguistics are absolutely essential to the field. We are nowhere without it.’ ” So, go figure. I never understood where Ken Hale was at, either.

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    So, go figure

    Easy: his desire to be be cutting trumped his desire to be consistent.

    Yes: the contributions all seem to amount to “he was all right deep down when you got to know him.” I have had the misfortune to encounter quite a number of such people.

    (Various obituaries of the undeniably great Africanist

    are excellent practice for deciphering traditional obit-speak, along the lines of “he did not suffer fools gladly.” In Abraham’s case, this actually comes across pretty clearly from his actual linguistic works, though to be fair, he often had a point.)

  49. I’ve never really cooked with lard, but for generations bacon grease has been my family’s preferred oil for frying things like pancakes, French toast, etc. (You don’t want to do apple fritters in lard, though; they get weird.)

  50. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    A traditional lunch dish here is æbleflæsk: Fried slices of pork belly served with unpeeled apple slices cooked in the pork fat. (WP claims it’s apple “compote”, but while æblemos would not be wrong, it’s not the archetype).

  51. @Paddy, DM: I remember my grandfather sometimes putting lard on bread as a spread, but that would then be all he put on it; whereas when he used butter, he’d put cold cuts or jam on top, as is usual in Germany nowadays. But in older literature (pre-WW II), you still find scenes where children are admonished to put on either just butter or just jam, not both.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    An article in the Grauniad suggests the startling news that Americans do not put butter in sandwiches.

    Is This True? It seems so … implausible

  53. No, Americans put mayonnaise or mustard on sandwiches, never butter. At least not in New England. Or peanut butter and jelly of course.

  54. I put butter in sandwiches because I’m an un-American weirdo who hates mustard and mayonnaise, but often it’s not an option.

  55. Is This True?

    It is, though (as always) with exceptions. I put mayonnaise (always Hellman’s) on almost everything, but I put butter, not jelly, on my peanut butter sandwiches. I have met only one other person who does this.

  56. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    For certain kinds of Danish smørrebrød it’s traditional to use pork fat instead of butter. For pickled herring, it’s obligatory — butter and pickled herring is heresy — but for some cold cuts you can use either, and once the pork fat is on the table you might as well do a few more slices of bread with that.

    In the high style you’ll end the meal with gammel ost med rom. Well matured cheese, aspic and raw onion rings, drizzled with rum, on rye with pork fat. (And then you finish off your beer and aquavit. In theory you can have white bread with butter and a milder cheese with your [mandatory, filter] coffee, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen that on a menu. The breakfast buffet and the croissant killed it).

    Personally, I have stopped using spreads for everyday open sandwiches. Not worth the calories, and sometimes they distract from the taste.

  57. David Marjanović says

    Contrariwise, the Butterbrot is the standard-and-default way of consuming bread.

  58. I remember my grandfather sometimes putting lard on bread as a spread, but that would then be all he put on it;

    No salt ?

  59. In my family, we grew up often putting margarine on sandwiches. My mother was raised by Canadians, but that was probably not the reason she picked up the habit. She absolutely hated mayonnaise and would not order sandwiches at restaurants without making absolutely sure they would not have mayo on them. Yet she also really disliked the texture of dry bread in a sandwich. She was fine with mustard on deli sandwiches as a provider of “moisture,” but that flavor does not work with everything. So the natural alternative was margarine, which we mostly called “butter” anyway.

  60. No salt ?
    No, I don’t remember him using salt on a Schmalzbrot.

  61. Es ist ein Brauch, sie sind zu zweit:
    Wo Schmalz, ist auch das Salz nicht weit.

    »Nein!« – ruft das Salz – »Aber nun
    Will ich’s auch ganz – und ganz – und ganz –
    und ganz gewiß nicht wieder tun!«

    Es kniet von ferne fromm und frisch.
    Das Schmalzbrot stehet auf dem Tisch.

    Es läßt sich knien auch ohne Pult.
    Das Schmalzbrot wartet mit Geduld.

    Man liest nicht gerne weit vom Licht.
    Das Schmalzbrot glänzt und rührt sich nicht.


  62. I will not eat mustard at all in any of its known varieties: [ftɛχ]. Mayo I enjoy if it’s spread very thinly, which means I often have to spread or re-spread it myself. I’ve been eating and cooking with margarine rather than butter for most of my life, not for dubious health reasons, but because it will not go rancid, and if a little bit of it gets into fruit spread or vice versa it is not a problem.

    So in general if a sandwich is sweet (or if it contains no other ingredients), it goes with margarine (which I call butter); if it is savory, it goes with small amounts of mayonnaise. These rules apply whether the bread is toasted or not: if someone else offers to toast it gratis or for money, I accept, but I don’t always bother on my own.

    always Hellman’s

    As you probably know by now, if you have to go West (as opposed to west) for any reason, Hellman’s is called Best Foods out there. The formulation has been almost the same since 1932: Best Foods has 5 additional mg of sodium per the labels, and subjectively it is generally described as “tangier”.

    peanut butter sandwiches

    Peanut butter and bacon is a thing (though it’s a lot of extra work); so is peanut butter and cream cheese.

  63. The generic term for such dessicated breads in my vocabulary is zwieback. Amusingly, I remember where I first learned that word too

    I learned it when my mother gave me some zwieback to eat and I said something like “What’s this?” I don’t actually remember this occasion, however.

    fromm und frisch

    The 4-H clubs, an organization for teenagers (originally those interested in agriculture, now in any subject) has international counterparts, sometimes with different letters. The U.S. and (English) Canadian organizations understand it as “head, heart, hands, health”. I had understood (though I can’t find it now) that in the German-speaking lands it is or was 4-F, for “frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei”. (In Costa Rica it is “saber, salud, sentimiento, servicio”, but in Ecuador it is “fe, fortaleza, fertilidad[*], felicidad”.)

    [*] Presumably referring to the soil, not the club members.

  64. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    In my childhood, margarine as a spread was a thing, but it was still thought of as “ersatz” butter — my parents’ generation grew up under German occupation where butter was rationed, actually into the 50s. There are probably people who like the taste from back then, but hydrogenated canola oil was never my favorite. Later, when the saturated fat scare spread, other formulations for table use were marketed.

    (Trans fats never figured into this, people had made their choice of veggie vs cow long before).

    Mayonnaise as a spread was never a thing in Denmark. Personally, I sometimes use mustard as a spread, but that’s not a typical thing to do either.

    The newest thing is a “spreadable” (meaning spreadable at fridge temperature) based on coconut oil that’s marketed as “vegan”. I don’t know what’s especially vegan about it, unless the older table margarines actually had a few percent of milk solids for taste. Ironically, and unlike other “vegan” products which are priced at a premium, it’s now about half the price of the butter and adulterated butter products available, because for some reason the farm industry decided that most of the inflationary price increases could be taken out on dairy.

    ObLang: Smøre as in smørrebrød is the main verb for spreading stuff on bread (and also for lubricating stuff). “Spreadable” is then smørbar, while butter is smør. So you can market anything as smørbart without having claimed that it contains butter, probably to great frustration for the farming cartels. Yes, you do quite unetymologically smøre fedt på brødet.

    (And no, I don’t know why smørrebrød has a double -rr-. The ø has in fact undergone compounding-related shortening, but 1) we don’t usually reflect that in spelling. cf lyseslukker with short y, and 2) marking short vowels by doubling a following consonant does not usually apply to m, r and v because ugly).

  65. margarine as a spread was a thing, but it was still thought of as “ersatz” butter

    Frankly, I didn’t realize there were people who didn’t think of it as “ersatz” butter.

  66. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I should have qualified that as “in my family”.

    I’m pretty sure there were areas and social strata where margarine was what you put on bread, full stop. Obviously margarine was not available if you go far enough back, so if you couldn’t afford butter you just did without, but after a few generations of austerity and rationing (1864 and all that) margarine was “normal”. To this day, if a cake recipe says margarine I wouldn’t replace it with butter because that would drown out all other taste elements.

    (Margarine was not available in Denmark during WWII because it used to be made from imported vegetable oils, which is probably why the rationing of butter was felt as one of the biggest hardships).

  67. i’m another u.s.ian with bacon fat in regular use for frying (though kept in a glass jar, not, as in my mother’s kitchen when i grew up, a coffee can*).

    and to fill out the autoethnography: for me, breakfast toast (bread of whatever kind**) is definitionally with butter***; the same applies to bagels, english muffins, corn muffins, and other such toasted savories (scones get honey or jam as a variation). at other times, jam, jelly, honey, etc can be in the mix, though i don’t usually like them combined with butter. bagels of course have their own traditional assortment of toppings and accompaniments, starting with cream cheese. and shmalts on bread is definitely a part of my blood family’s world, though nobody living (as far as i know) likes it enough to keep shmalts around for it. i was considered rather odd as a kid (beyond my own family) for not liking butter or mayo as a basic sandwich element.

    * chock full o’ nuts
    ** with a preference for rye, sourdough, challah, or crusty ‘peasant breads’.
    *** which is not margarine, which is for me deeply associated with the rhyme recorded by the clancy brothers: “ahem! ahem! me mother has gone to church / she says i cannot play with you because you’re in the dirt / it isn’t because you’re dirty, it isn’t because you’re clean / it’s because you’ve got the whooping cough and eat margarine”.

  68. Jews and bacon fat, right?

  69. David Marjanović says

    it will not go rancid

    …that’s… not been a problem since the invention of the fridge…? If you buy butter faster than you eat it, just freeze what you’re not using; there’s absolutely no problem with keeping it frozen for months.

    But yes, it’s usually noticeable whether baked goods have been made with butter or margarine, and the flavor that the former has and the latter just lacks doesn’t always fit well. That’s also why I use canola more widely than olive oil.

    unless the older table margarines actually had a few percent of milk solids for taste

    A few of them did, but they were marketed as Milchmargarine over here.

    Yes, you do quite unetymologically smøre fedt på brødet.

    The etymology is fine: the verb is cognate with smear, the noun is deverbal. (Though German Schmiere refers to lubricants, not to edibles.)

    breakfast toast

    America, the land where bread is sold half-baked because it’s going to be toasted anyway…

    in the German-speaking lands it is or was 4-F, for “frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei”

    “Was” indeed; the Nazis have skunked it. Neonazis sometimes arrange the four F into a slightly deniable double swastika.

    Also, fromm “pious” would have pretty much guaranteed the extinction of the whole thing in the late 70s anyway, outside the mentioned fringe.

  70. Dahl defines lampopo as a drink made with cold beer, lemons and dried or fried rye bread. There is a lampopo drinking scene in Leskov’s Cathedral Folk. When Russian sources from the XIX century specify the type of bread in lampopo, it’s always rye, with one possible but unlikely exception.

    The Molokhovets cookbook has two recipes for “Limpopo (a Finnish drink).” Both call for light beer, sugar, lemons and “10-kopeck sour-sweet bread without succades”. One also includes rum. I’m pretty sure that her sour and sweet bread was rye bread made with malt and/or molasses. Possibly some low-quality wheat flour mixed in.

  71. David Eddyshaw says

    FFFF to me immediately suggests the alleged typical sufferer from gallstones: “fair, fat, female and forty.”

    (It’s not a very good mnemonic, to judge by my personal experience. I only scored 25%.)

  72. I’ve always found you to be a very fair person.

  73. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    What is even the natural source to cultivate for cooking fat in what is now Israel? WP tells me that goose schmaltz is the Ashkenazi tradition, but Google tells me that olive oil was the Biblical thing.

  74. David Marjanović says

    I’d expect olive oil all around the Mediterranean for the last buncha thousand years…

  75. The etymology is fine: the verb is cognate with smear, the noun is deverbal. (Though German Schmiere refers to lubricants, not to edibles.)

    Ein Butterbrot schmieren is what people around here always say for “[spread something on in order to] make a sandwich”. The result may be an “open-faced sandwich”, which of course is superior in many ways to a two-faced cheating American “sandwich”, in which the taste is buried between “bread”.

  76. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @Stu, that made me realize how fundamental the open face sandwich must have been in Denmark. To prepare a sandwich is simply at smøre sig en mad. A kartoffelmad cannot be other than black rye, butter and (sliced, boiles) potatoes, and so on for the various cold cuts and patés, also tomatoes, each with their traditional and obligate toppings. A rejemad will be on a slice of wheat bread, however, and an ostemad can be either or even knäckebröd.

    (Mad in general means food, I should perhaps mention, but the singulative en mad is only ever as described above. It will also take the usual non-count determiners, noget mad = ‘some food’).

  77. David Marjanović says

    Mayonnaise on bread… potatoes on bread… soon I’ll have seen everything. What next? Will I be familiar with all internet traditions?

  78. I have had a pizza with potatoes on it, but not a potato sandwich, except when I used to put fries on my burger or potato chips in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

  79. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Denmark is the land of rye and potatoes, of course we put the latter on the former. Potatoes on white bread is probably not a good idea, though. (We’re talking peeled and boiled potatoes from yesterday’s dinner, sliced. The mayo goes on top. A slice or two of tomato among the potato slices improves the experience. On pizza you start with raw slices, obvs).

    Putative UK comfort food: Chip butty.

  80. Also “chips and pitta” as made famous by Amy Winehouse.

    And then there’s the crisp version, the Tayto sandwich, in Ireland.

  81. In some parts of the U.S., a traditional Friday/Lenten Italian-American dish is a scrambled-eggs-and-green-or-red-peppers sandwich, with potatoes sometimes seen as an additional ingredient.

  82. People, mayo belongs in salads, not on bread. That’s what the Lord intended. Repent, change your erroneous ways, and abandon this abomination!

  83. As a data point, I yesterday observed a friend prepare a grilled cheese sandwich, mayonnaised within, buttered without. I present it with no judgment.

    Aside from that, I have never been to Denmark, but cold potato slices on buttered whole-rye bread sound delightful. Potato on a pizza is wonderful, e.g. in combination with pesto. However Fries/chips in a pita, an Israeli invention, are to be blamed for all that country’s ills. At least those not blamed on chicken schnitzel in a pita.

    Spaghetti seasoned with butter and breadcrumbs may sound absurd, but is ambrosia, known only to the poor.

  84. Definitely olive oil in Palestine, above all, up to the present day. I suppose animal fat was used, but it must have been rare.

  85. My great-aunt who lived on a farm in Indiana made grilled cheese with mayo and butter. I had to request no mayo when visiting her as a kid. Her husband put butter on his lasagne. Both lived into their 80s.

  86. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Who was the genius who came up with the idea that you could sell unripe bell peppers if you called them “green peppers”? I hope the farming mafia paid them what they deserved. (I’m not ruling out that there are varieties of bell peppers that are green when ripe, cf various chiles and apples like Green “Delicious,” but the ones they sell here are clearly just unripe red ones as witnessed by the fact that they will turn red if you leave them on the shelf).

  87. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Spaghetti with butter and breadcrumbs, please. I can get both gluten free now. Will the budget allow a little garlic?

    Going with the flow: The other day in the supermarket I asked for the gluten-free /ɲɔkːi/ that they used to have, and was proudly handed a bag of /g̥noʈ͡ʃi/. Silence is golden!

  88. In my childhood I was not aware that bell peppers came in any color other than green. And the aforementioned Indiana great-aunt called them “mangoes”.

  89. “Mango” for green pepper apparently is (was?) a Midwestern thing.
    and the like.

  90. For decades, there have been separate bell pepper cultivars that are intended to be harvested when they are green, yellow, orange, or red.

  91. I don’t know whether that’s a thing elsewhere, but in German supermarkets bell peppers are even sold in “traffic light” sets – one green, one yellow, one red, packed in one transparent plastic package.

  92. There is something unnatural about it: many things have a variety of colours, melons which I eat are not exactly “yellow”. Apples are worse, they are indeed green, yellow or red – but still these colours have different shades.
    But these are Just Green, or Just Yellow, or Just Red. Like plastic.

    Are there edible turquoise things?

  93. Lars Mathiesen says

    Turquoise: Red cabbage cooked at low pH. (Blue at neutral or high pH) But the color before cooking is clearly inside the range of “red”. Also new cultivars of cauliflower and spring cabbages which probably have been given red cabbage genes. (Since cauliflower is usually just cooked in water here, you risk getting bright blue florets on your dinner plate. I have taken to adding a little apple vinegar to the cooking water to mitigate the effect).

    Also most eggplants, but it’s just the skin.

  94. Think you’re confusing “turquoise” for “purple” there 🙂 The only non-artificially-colored foodstuff existing in the cyan-to-teal range I can think of is some types of “blue” cheese.

    Orange bell peppers only appeared some 5–10 years ago up here; also in their culinary properties they seem to be less of a unique variant and more like yellow-peppers-with-different-color; unlike green ones, neither of these will turn red all by itself with time. Also I do note that while green ones have been available “always” (very relative; my mother reports she had never encountered bell peppers before moving from north-central Finland to study in Helsinki in the 70s), my family never used them in any cooking and I’ve had to make my own acquaintance with e.g. Mexican cuisine to figure out what they’re good for.

    This brings to mind also heirloom colored carrot mixes, usully orange / yellow / white / purple, another recent innovation coming hot on the heels of the yellow carrot which I think of as a short-lived fad in the 10s. And I think I’ve seen a heirloom white / yellow / red beet mix too by now. These seem more useful than the tricolor peppers to me, since these generally don’t have different culinary properties, whereas a red pepper will be noticably sweeter and squishier than a green one.

  95. The nonexistence of blue food was an inspiration to George Carlin, no?

  96. o, red/purple cabbage can get very specifically blue, under the right conditions.

    and whenever this subject turns up i am reminded that a lot of people don’t eat flowers regularly, or somehow exclude them from “food”. (i’m particularly partial to mountain bluebells; the eastern species of Mertensia can’t compare)

  97. David Marjanović says

    o, red/purple cabbage can get very specifically blue, under the right conditions.

    Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid. Ten times fast.

    (It’s called Rot- or Blau- in a small-scale mosaic, presumably depending on what the micro-local way of preparation used to be traditionally. Of course southern -kraut corresponds to northern -kohl, because cabbages are never simple, but all four combinations – and more – are attested.)

  98. @Lars, J Pystynen, thanks:
    thinking about cheese and eggplants reminded me that I bought several eggplants recently and forgot to unpack them, they are in a bag and are still edible.

  99. (It’s called Rot- or Blau- in a small-scale mosaic, presumably depending on what the micro-local way of preparation used to be traditionally
    The explanation for the variation that I have read is that German dialects simply had no word for the purple color of the cabbage, so they chose red or blue more or less at random.
    OTOH, I have seen the cabbage prepared in ways that make it look more red than purple. I’ve never seen it actually prepared in a way that makes it clearly blue.

  100. I’ve never seen it actually prepared in a way that makes it clearly blue.

    I can assure you that when you try to make Rotkohl and don’t know what you’re doing, it turns out blue. All the red leaches out into the liquid and becomes pale purple. Fact.

    The Igloo people make a frozen Rotkohl mit Apfel that is inedible because there is too much cinnamon in it.

    A simple glass jar of commercial Rotkohl mit Apfel tastes best. O the shame of it !

  101. And the jar contents have a saturated red color, as is only natural. Just as wheat flour was naturally white before the hippies started messing with it.

  102. Red cabbage is like litmus paper. Red in acid, blue in alkali. I once tried to put red cabbage in scrambled eggs. It tasted OK but looked repulsively mold-blue.

  103. David Marjanović says

    I’ve never seen it actually prepared in a way that makes it clearly blue.

    I have. I’m not sure I’ve seen it clearly red. 🙂

    I’m sure the young age of words for “purple” plays a role, but it’s not the whole story.

  104. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    It’s universally rødkål in Danish. But then it’s mostly preserved (shredded) with vinegar and cloves, and even when served hot with Christmas dinner it’s traditional to add both to get the accustomed taste (and color, probably). If you pour out the remaining liquid from a jar in the sink and rinse with tap water, it will often turn blue as the acidity is diluted.

    The color with acid is a dark purplish red, but clearly in the range of rød. Red beets have almost the same color, but are not sensitive to pH.

    Raw shredded cabbage (any color) with grated apple (and lemon juice to keep the apple from going brown) makes for a nice salad. Raisins and seeds/nuts optional.

  105. January First-of-May says

    AFAICT red onions (same pigment as red cabbage, AFAIK) also turn blue/green in some preparation conditions (Google says usually with eggs) due to pH sensitivity; we had this happen to a red-onion-based dish a few months ago, and it was definitely quite a surprise!

    My googling attempts also found that this can also happen for garlic, and that a particular example of the relevant preparation is known as laba garlic; the Wikipedia pictures show it as dark green, but image search finds a wide variety of coloring, including turquoise.

    European bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) are often so light blue as to be almost cyan – indeed their Russian name, голубика, corresponds to the “light blue” basic color. IIRC that’s just the skin, though.

    Vaguely recall having seen an edible variety of… I think mint?… that had bluish-tinged leaves due to slight iridescence. I’m not sure I’m not misremembering, though (and Google doesn’t find anything relevant).

  106. “litmus paper”

    litmus (sorry for absense of italics):

    “From Middle English litmose, lytmose, litemose, from Old Norse litmosi (“moss used for dyeing”), from lita (“to dye, stain”), from litr (“colour, dye, blee”), from Proto-Germanic *wlitiz, *wlituz (“appearance, blee”), from Proto-Indo-European *wel- (“to see”) + mosi (“moss”). Cognate with Old English wlite (“appearance, form, brightness, countenance”). More at moss.”

    Dutch lakmoes:

    “From Middle Dutch lecmoes (1252), Middle Dutch lijcmoes (1459), early modern Dutch leeckmoes (1514), modern Dutch lackmoes (ca. 1620 and 1679).[1][2][3] Equivalent to lekken +‎ moes, the first element was later adapted by folk etymology to lak. Likely related to Old Norse litmosi, but the details of how they are related remain unclear.”

  107. David Eddyshaw says

    Proto-Indo-European *wel-

    Huh. Welsh gweld. A connection with “litmus” would not have occurred to me …

  108. wlite surprises me. I could not imagine such a confluence [wli].

    [w] has some affinity with [l] (liquids), [i] is not far from a glide as well.

  109. David Eddyshaw says

    [wl], both initially and after consonants, is actually well-represented in Welsh.

    All together now:

    Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad …

    [Gwlad is a monosyllable. For [wl] initially: Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi …]

    [wn] too: gwneud is “do” (also monosyllabic.)

    The cluster derives from *wr historically (because syllable-initial [wn] is obviously much easier to pronounce than [wr] …)

    Cognate with “work.”

  110. DE, well, in Welsh [wl] surprises me less. Do you also have [wli]?

  111. Honesly, even in Slavic /v/ can be an approximant…

    I don’t know about South Slavic though. cf. Russian ColC>ColoC and South Slavic ClaC.
    As result vl- is common for South Slavic words.

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    Do you also have [wli]?


    Gwlith “dew.” (Cognate with liquid, says GPC, and thus with Welsh gwlyb “wet.”)

    Mae hi’n wlyb heddiw. But then, THIS IS SPARTA! I mean, Wales.

  113. “Cognate with liquid.”

    Aha, as I said: 1.confluence 2. liquids:))))

  114. /wl/ is still kinda small potatoes compared to what some other languages can get up to; the area of southwestern China / eastern Tibet / northeast India has several that allow things like monosyllabic liquid + stop + maybe additional stuff, as in the term “Rgyalrong” which is two syllables, not three.

    Arguably this is though not intrinsically any worse than things like monosyllabic кедр in Russian, even if it’s a bit more off of usual European sensibilities.

    — Oh also, forgot to mention, I thank this thread for helping me realize that the username of someone I know (well, “a user I know”) in fact does not refer to “a go-go bell” whatever that would be.

  115. gvprtskvni!

  116. David Eddyshaw says


  117. tftktsstt

    “monosyllabic кедр in Russian, ”

    Not terribly far from syllabic /r/. And zmrzlina or trg (Czech and FYLOSC) are not difficult. There is zdra[v]stvuj (Russenorsk drasvi), but it is not *rdza-.

    But then in another thread we mentioned several Russian rCV- and even rTV- words.

  118. Then there’s Joe Btfsplk and Mr Mxyzptlk.

  119. I only know this agogo

    (Also this and navy agogo – but I did not know these two before)

  120. I also did not know that Norodom Sihanouk is a prolific film director.

  121. For some reason, at least in Russian, dancers in Thai clubs are “go-go”, but in Cambodian songs – and in the Malay entry in wiktionary “agogo” – it retains a-.
    The malay plural kindly suggested by wt is agogo-agogo.

  122. A recent paper, Frequent violation of the sonority sequencing principle in hundreds of languages: how often and by which sequences?, may point at other entertaining consonant sequences, but alas, it’s mostly statistics, not specifics.

  123. gvprtskvni!

    Georgian on the other hand is much less impressive about all this than it looks written/transcribed; it allows schwa epenthesis all over the place, so that phonetically e.g. this will be something like [gvə.pʰr̩tsʰ.kʰv(ə)ni] with 3–4 phonetic syllables. Check out e.g. mr. gogita on whom I’d transcribe as indeed pronouncing this with [gɨvɨ-].

    (edit: why is my IPA shot to hell? looks fine in edit, something about the hyperlink with Georgian characters?).

  124. Looks fine when posted, too; it’s just preview that screws it up. This is a known issue that has been discussed recently by people who actually know something about it, but I don’t remember in which thread.

  125. As a Russian I also hear ы, but it is a very slow recording (which of course does not mean that it does not illustrate your point).

    @LH, at least the spam filter doesn’t fight with Cyrillic. That was horrible indeed.

  126. Yeah, but Celabros pronounces it as a single syllable. Allowing epenthesis is not the same as mandating it.

  127. David Marjanović says

    I don’t know about South Slavic though.

    Slovene v is routinely [u] or forms diphthongs. And in FYLOSC, the preposition has become u.

  128. Proto-Indo-European *wel-

    Dialectal English lait ‘seek’ < ON; Latin voltus ‘facial expression, countenance’; OE wuldor, ME wulder ‘glory’; Modern Goedelics file/filidh/feelee ‘seer, poet’ (you get to figure out which is which).

  129. David Eddyshaw says

    Dialectal English lait ‘seek’

    Kusaal, on the other hand, has nyɛ “see” ~ “find.” The Kusaasi are evidently more glass-half-full in their outlook than the English.

    Hadn’t thought about Old Goidelic fili.

    Insular Celtic has the vates etymon too (cf Welsh gwawd, which has come down in the world and now means “mockery” instead of “eulogy, poetry.”)

  130. David Eddyshaw says

    GPC reckons bardd, the ordinary Welsh word for “poet”, is from the PIE root *gʷerH- “praise” (and thus cognate with Latin gratus.)

    Evidently the main role of a poet. Well, a poet’s gotta eat.

    The genuine works (according to Ifor Williams) of Taliesin among the more recent compositions in the Llyfr Taliesin are praise poems in honour of Urien, king of Rheged (and his son); Urien was doing quite well against the English when he was assassinated at the behest of another Brythonic king jealous of his prowess, displaying the enduring Welsh gift for self-sabotage.

Speak Your Mind