Copyediting dictionaries is tedious work but I always learn things. I just discovered that the word collation, in the sense of ‘light meal,’ comes from the title of John Cassian‘s early fifth-century work Collationes patrum in scetica eremo (Conferences with the Egyptian hermits), which was read in Benedictine communities before a light meal.
Another etymology that stunned me: collard, as in collard greens, is just a slightly collapsed version of colewort, an extension of cole ‘cabbage-like vegetable,’ which we know today primarily as part of coleslaw. I love collards (it’s part of the Southern half of my heritage), but I never knew that.


  1. marie-lucie says

    I did not know that “collation” with that meaning was used in English. It is used in French, but its use and frequency depend on the region and the social level. It could refer to the snacks that children eat after school (since supper will be quite a bit later), or, at a higher social level, to “refreshments” such as tea and cake after a gathering in the afternoon, or, in some rural communities, to the mid-morning cooked meal served to the people who got up very early and had no breakfast before doing the morning chores.

  2. For me a “cold collation” will always be the one that took place at Aunt Dahlia’s country house after Gussie did such an unforgettable job of distributing the school prizes.

  3. >>It is used in French, but its use and frequency depend on the region and the social level

  4. (contd)
    And these days also on the airline.

  5. marie-lucie says

    Yes, the airline is not pretending to serve a real meal.

  6. Whatever happened to collating pages as they come off the xerox machine. If you don’t hit the right button you have to collate them yourself.
    Merriam Webster:

    Main Entry: col·la·tion
    Pronunciation: \kə-ˈlā-shən, kä-, kō-\
    Function: noun
    Date: 14th century
    1 [Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin collation-, collatio, from Late Latin, conference, from Latin, bringing together, comparison, from conferre (past participle collatus) to bring together — more at confer, tolerate] a : a light meal allowed on fast days in place of lunch or supper b : a light meal
    2 [Middle English, from Latin collation-, collatio] : the act, process, or result of collating

    fast days?
    What is this, some kind of Ramadan thing? Is this the same English I speak? I think not. What is the world coming to?

  7. marie-lucie says

    Nijma, what do you eat in the morning? – breakfast – you break your fast of the night. You have also heard of Lent? this is supposed to be a period of fasting. All Fridays used to be fasting days. The Lent period, and other fasting days, do not require a harsh fast from ordinary people (as opposed to clergy and religious orders, who have stricter rules), just abstinence from meat, but it’s OK to eat fish and eggs.

  8. It’s supposed to be a period of fasting — for Catholics, which I am not.
    But I never heard any Catholics use the word either, or for that matter any Eastern Orthodox, who aren’t allowed to eat fish, only shrimp. Don’t Catholics eat meat now anyhow? Or is that Friday? I can never keep track. It’s hard enough to remember what is hallal and what is haraam.
    Breakfast is breakfast, lunch is lunch, collation is photocopiers.

  9. The Ethiopians fast on Wednesday and Friday, but this is not an abstention from food as is the Ramadan daylight fast, but rather normal mealtimes but without meat. I never heard of a special word for this meal, but I always had to fight for it because they wanted to feed me western food. If you’re hanging out with an Ethiopian, there’s no way they can tell you they don’t have it because they will expect your table companion to be “fasting” and will be ready to provide this vegetarian food. Likewise weddings are not scheduled on these days, since a wedding feast must include meat for a properly ostentatious event. The Ethiopians got Christianity from the Egyptians, but monophysites, not Benedictines. I wouldn’t exactly call it a light meal though, it’s delicious, with purple bread that looks like an ace bandage.

  10. Nijma:
    > Is this the same English I speak?

    > It’s supposed to be a period of fasting — for Catholics, which I am not.
    But (Marry!) your language used to be.
    Register’s a fickle thing; collation, I assume, is high register in English (I’d never heard of it). The same word borrowed into Modern Greek from Italian, κολατσιό, is low register for “snack”.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    The feast day of St. John Cassian is on the Orthodox reckoning Feb. 29th, so we New-Calendarists just missed it (for a split-second at midnight . . .). Of course, thoughtful saints will realize that if your feast day typically falls during Great Lent, you can hope for a collation at best.

  12. Nijma, the Papists do fast, but Gustavus Adolphus freed us from that.

  13. The name “Mary” is hardly exclusive to catholicism; all Christians know it, so do Moslems. For that matter “Miriam” was the Old Testament sister of Moses.
    etymology:marry (v.)
    c.1300, from O.Fr. marier, from L. maritare “to wed, marry, give in marriage,” from maritus “married man, husband,” of uncertain origin, perhaps ult. from “provided with a *mari,” a young woman, from PIE base *meri- “young wife,” akin to *meryo- “young man” (cf. Skt. marya- “young man, suitor”).
    I would say Sanskrit predates the pope; at any rate there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between collation and catholicism, at least an etymological one.
    As far as ghits, the first few pages, excluding the echo chamber of dictionaries, think “collation” has to do with sorting.
    Gustavus?, I’m not Lutheran either, although I should be, ya, shore, yoo betcha. Don’t know how that one slipped through the cracks.

  14. collation, I assume, is high register in English (I’d never heard of it).
    Maybe it’s British. U? Non-U?

  15. > The name “Mary” is hardly exclusive to catholicism
    Using it as an oath is not exactly a hallmark of Protestantism though (see “Mariolatry”). And of course the verb is etymologically irrelevant to the oath. Αχ Παναγιά μου…

  16. I have occasionally heard old Norwegian Americans say “Yeeeesus’ Mater!” as a mild curse. It has to be a survival from Catholic Norway, before 1550 or so.

  17. colewort, an extension of cole ‘cabbage-like vegetable,’ which we know today primarily as part of coleslaw
    I never tire of reminding folks that cole is related to the German Kohl. Kohl itself is not cabbage-like, it is cabbage-identical. But there are different-looking and different-tasting vegetables that have Kohl in their names: Rotkohl, Weisskohl, Grünkohl, Blumenkohl (cauliflower), Rosenkohl (brussel sprouts). Grünkohl, cooked slowly with almost no water, and with the addition of a bit of chopped onion, pork-belly and nutmeg, tastes most like collard greens, as I remember these.
    And, as I have also mentioned once, the “slaw” in “coleslaw” reminds me of the Kölsch (Cologne German dialect) word for salad, Schlaht [the “ah” is supposed to represent a drawn-out, dark, voluminous “o”].

  18. But then why is it colazione vs collazione in Italian? I always thought it had something to do with colare (to strain). Single l because of folk etymology?

  19. Trond Engen says

    “Yeeeesus’ Mater!”
    Odd. I’ve never heard anything like it around here. It must be either a local survival that gained wider use in Minnesota or an old curse that’s been completely lost (without even literary traces) in the last century.

  20. michael farris says

    kolacja is used in Polish to refer to a (generally light) supper, largely not cooked and often indistinguishable from breakfast.
    Typically there’s bread, cold meat, cheese, tomatoes etc. Eggs or sausage may be cooked but that’s about it.
    Also in Polish ‘to fast’ (pościć) doesn’t necessarily mean not eating at all but abstaining from meat and reducing meal size.

  21. Orthodox Christians fast — in fact, now it’s the Great Fast (Lent) and the diet is vegan — no meat, dairy, or fish (except for crustaceans), alcohol or sex.

  22. But then why is it colazione vs collazione in Italian?
    Both versions are used, as it often happens in Italian where regional differences are largely recognized. But “collazione” also means “collation” in a philological or editorial sense.

  23. …and kohlrabi

  24. re Cauliflower
    1597 GERARD Herbal xxxvi. 246 Cole Florie, or after some Colieflorie.

  25. bruessel says

    Collation “could refer to the snacks that children eat after school”…
    In that case, wouldn’t you rather say “le goûter”?

  26. marie-lucie says

    collation vs goûter
    That’s what I mean about regional and other differences. My family and many others said goûter but some other people would say collation.

  27. Nijma: I think of Marry as an exclamation in Shakespearean Age English with a non-swearing feeling. “Marry, I wager you that …” meaning “indeed”, similar to walahi – “believe me” in Arabic.

  28. The colloquial (collational?) meaning of fast and the technical RC one are different.
    In Catholicism, there were two types of penitential days – Fast days and days of abstinence.
    Abstinence refers to the avoidance of meat—all Fridays used to be days of abstinence. There was no limit to the quantity of other food.
    Fast Days were days when the intake of any type of food is to be minimized. The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent were Fast days, as were scattered days during the rest of the year. There was no prohibition of any type of food on fast days—the intention was to limit the amount of food, not the type of food.
    Am I the only one here who was brought up Catholic?

  29. collation, I assume, is high register in English
    Yes. Pay no attention to Nijma, she thinks any word or sense she’s not personally acquainted with doesn’t exist.
    Am I the only one here who was brought up Catholic?
    I wasn’t brought up Catholic (in fact, I was brought up Lutheran, and still love “Ein feste Burg”), but I went to a Catholic school from sixth to ninth grades, and can still say the Ave Maria in Latin.

  30. marie-lucie says

    Am I the only one here who was brought up Catholic?
    I was, but minimally. My mother was Catholic but from a mixed family (Protestant father). My father was raised without a religion and had to be baptized as an adult in order to marry my mother in church, but he considered this a pure formality. We ate fish, not meat, on Fridays, at a time when the custom was general among Catholics.

  31. The categories “Catholic” and “Protestant” survive loss of faith. I’m a Lutheran, for example, like Nietzsche.
    At this point, American Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians (as liturgical churches) are growing closer and closer. (Less so for the Orthodox.) My mother was attended Catholic services a few times during her 70s and 80s and was quite welcome there. I attended a Catholic service for the first time recently (a funeral) and was disappointed by the similarities, including the singing of a couple of far too Protestant hyms. The main difference were about 8x as many candles, and lots of very nice Renaissance style icons on the walls.

  32. So Hat, are you allowed to eat ein feste Burg on Fridays?

  33. Festeburgers are only for festive or festal days.
    Does any language have a collative case, for describing vehicle crashes, production meetings or tense command performance business lunches?

  34. There was no prohibition of any type of food on fast days—the intention was to limit the amount of food, not the type of food.
    As one more person brought up Catholic, I have never heard of a fast day when meat was allowed.

  35. Bill Walderman says

    I’m not Catholic–and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone–but one of the things I’ve noticed when I’ve had occasion to attend Catholic services in recent years is the abysmal quality of the hymns. When they haven’t appropriated Protestant hymns, the hymns from the standard Catholic hymnal in the US tend to sound like bad 1960-ish coffee house folk/pop music. This is sad because the Catholic Church seems to have turned its back on its rich musical heritage. I wonder whether hymn singing by the congregation wasn’t a part of Catholic liturgy before about 1965, and about that time they cobbled together a hymnal that really sounds like a parody of the decade of its origin.

  36. “collation, I assume, is high register in English (I’d never heard of it).
    Maybe it’s British. U? Non-U?”
    I suspect that it was once U, or perhaps a genteel affectation of being U, but I guess that it’s rarely been used recently except sarcastically. As in “Why don’t you come round for a curry?”. “I’d rather have a cold collation, thanks.”

  37. marie-lucie says

    Bill W, you are absolutely right. It is a very long time since I have willingly attended a Catholic service, but the modernizing reforms of the Church have been terrible in terms of the music. I think the idea was to have simple tunes that everyone could sing, rather than traditional choir music sung by trained singers (the congregation itself did not sing). This particular reform has not attracted outstanding somposers, unlike what happened in the time of Luther and later in Germany.

  38. marie-lucie says

    p.s. Traditional organ music is still performed, fortunately.

  39. Congregational singing is Protestant, though I imagine that popular Catholic movements and brotherhoods have done it. Catholic hymn writing is recent, so comparisons to Bach are not fair — recent Lutheran hymn writing is not Bach either. (In my chucrh the music has been modernized and watered down, though local gossip tells me that the 85 year old choir director is partly the problem.)
    The “Minnesota school” of contemporary ecumenical hymn writing, consisting of Marty Haugen Michael Joncas, and David Haas, is generally disliked by traditioalists.

  40. j. del col says

    Kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, the brassicas are a collection of cabbages in one form or another that yield coleslaw and colcannon, among other dishes.

  41. colcannon, among other dishes
    I almost did a post on this odd word, but I decided enough cabbage was enough. Here‘s the Wikipedia entry, for those interested; I felt the alternate etymology (mashed with a cannonball) wasn’t well enough founded to deserve being added.

  42. Incidentally, if collation reminds anyone of collimation, I once wrote about collimate, and in the comment thread I gave a one-sentence summary of Frances Yates’s The Art of Memory that might be useful to anyone who, like me, once read the book but has forgotten the details.

  43. J.W. Brewer says

    The book some of you want is Why Catholics Can’t Sing, by Thomas Day (who is himself a Catholic and a church musician, but who noticed that whenever he was doing a substitute gig as organist for a Prot colleague across town that a congregation with 75% fewer warm bodies was producing more music from the pews).

  44. In the Jewish American context, “collation” is used fairly often to gloss “kiddush,” the refreshments after services on the Sabbath. (At least, that’s how I recall first meeting the word.) Not that this gloss helps anyone.
    collation:kiddush :: phylacteries:tefillin.

  45. in the comment thread I gave a one-sentence summary of Frances Yates’s The Art of Memory
    That would be this:

    To greatly oversimplify, the ancient world used this “artificial memory” for speeches, the medieval world for sermons and visions of heaven and hell (Yates speculates that the Divine Comedy may be, among other things, the greatest literary example of a memory theater), and the Renaissance for magic (Giordano Bruno putting Cicero together with Ramon Llull).

    But you made another pertinent comment there about the book:

    It’s complicated

    That must be why all I remember about it nowadays is the topic of organizing and delivering a speech as if it were a walk down memory lane. A pity Yates was not able to organize her own book along those lines. I got lost where two roads diverged in a yellow wood.

  46. I almost did a post on this odd word [colcannon], but I decided enough cabbage was enough
    In other words, you decided that would have been alten Kohl wieder aufzuwärmen (to heat up [a pot of] old cabbage). Or to say any more macht den Kohl nicht fett (would be pointless, wouldn’t improve matters).

  47. Second thoughts: a more accurate rendering of das macht den Kohl nicht fett is “that wouldn’t do any harm”. It’s 5 in the morning, one is not thinking straight.

  48. Never mind Elvis. According to this, Frost is still alive [Robert Frost. 1875-  ].

  49. marie-lucie says

    Alas, note the date of publication. Frost was alive and kicking then.

  50. I’ve said it before: If Metallica is a metal band then Brassica ought to be a brass band.
    What was that about U and non-U?

  51. What about Nat King Kohl ? And the culinary strategy of the bookburners [in the newest comment thread]: Schlock and Slaw ?

  52. bruessel says

    Grumbly: I think your first rendering of “das macht den Kohl (auch) nicht fett” was the right one. Shouldn’t you be getting your beauty sleep at 5 in the morning?

  53. Cramba bis posita mors.
    Around here they say “I don’t chew my cabbages twice” when refusing to take a second try at something.

  54. I think your first rendering of “das macht den Kohl (auch) nicht fett” was the right one.
    bruessel: after I offered the translation T1 “would be pointless, wouldn’t improve matters”, it occurred to me that I’ve heard it used in the sense of T2 “that wouldn’t do any harm” – in the sense of “that wouldn’t do any harm, but it wouldn’t do any good either”.
    What I’m trying to say is that this other use T2 is less aggressively dismissive than T1. We have T1 in a situation where A is wants to do something to improve a situation, but B brushes the suggestion roughly aside:
    A. Ich könnte doch folgendes machen … [describes what he has in mind]
    B. Das macht aber den Kohl auch nicht fett ! Lass’ es lieber ganz, du kannst die Sache doch nicht ändern.
    Here is the weaker dismissal:
    A. …
    B. Na ja, aber das macht den Kohl auch nicht fett. Vielleicht gibt’s eine andere Möglichkeit.
    I suppose you’re right that I was right that the expression essentially means “that would be pointless, wouldn’t improve matters”. It’s just that through tone of voice, and addition of things like Na ja, you can reduce the dismissiveness spin on it.

  55. Shouldn’t you be getting your beauty sleep at 5 in the morning?
    At 5 in the morning, youth is still chasing beauties in its dreams. But for the man of the world, el sueño de la razón produce monstruos.

  56. So that’s where these monsters are coming from! I thought the cats were bringing them in.

  57. collation, I assume, is high register in English
    Yes. Pay no attention to Nijma, she thinks any word or sense she’s not personally acquainted with doesn’t exist.

    I don’t believe in reading people’s minds; it’s inaccurate at best and you risk looking uncharitable. This must be a joke of some kind, but I don’t really get it.
    I find it very interesting that I, who live in the crossroads of the American midwest and use the dialect some consider to be generic American, have never heard of the word, but someone in Scotland has. (It would be curious to know if other midwestern LH readers have similar experience, or if, as is implied above, I just don’t rub elbows with an elite enough hoi oligoi–or maybe one with an ecclesiastical enough bent.)
    This essay on confer/collate caught my eye. Unfortunately it doesn’t have nice footnotes, but it’s interesting enough to post for anyone who wants to look further.

    7. Another reason people are brought together, however, is to hear something. Thus, from the 15th century the word collation meant “a discourse, sermon, homily.” From 1494: “He made unto them colacions or exortacions…” Then, from a few years later: “If any Priest came..into the village, the inhabitants thereof would gather about him, and desire to have some good lesson or collation made unto them.” One of the celebrated works of the early church was John Cassian’s early 5th century Collationes Patrum in Scetica Eremo Commorantium–i.e., Conference or Conversations with the Egyptian Hermits.” A reading from the Collationes or from the lives of the Fathers, which St. Benedict insituted in the early Benedictine monasteries, was called a collation. From 1482: “The mene while..hit range to the collation and the bretheren..went thense.” The monks could be said to have eaten or drunk after collation (which was before compline–the last of the seven canonical hours…)

    8. Finally, the word collation could extend to the meal, generally a light repast, that would take place after the reading collation.” From the 19th century: “When I came, I found such a collation of wine and sweetmeats prepared as little corresponded to the terms of the invitation.” As with most things in Catholic theology or monastic practice, the amount and type of food that could be taken at a collation was regulated. From 1582: “Where every one taketh a glasse of wine, and a quarter of a manchet (bread), and so he maketh his collatione.” The 1885 Catholic Dictionary has: “The quantity permissible at collation has been gradually enlarged. St. Charles..only allows a glass of wine with an ounce and a half of bread to be taken as a collation on the evening of feasting days.”

    This same “light repast” of bread and wine shows up in the food regulations of the Benedictine rule (google “Rule of St. Benedict”); since this was an early monastic order, other orders also based their rule on it:

    # Chapters 39 and 40 regulate the quantity and quality of the food. Two meals a day are allowed, with two cooked dishes at each. Each monk is allowed a pound of bread and a hemina (probably about half a pint) of wine. Meat is prohibited except for the sick and the weak.

  58. The Benedictines thought the Carthusians were fanatics because they didn’t let their sick and weak have meat either.

  59. Nijma: part of the objection was to your own “joke of some kind”:
    “fast days?
    What is this, some kind of Ramadan thing? Is this the same English I speak? I think not”
    I, and I will mind-read for Marie-Lucie as well 🙂 , assumed you were unfamiliar with “fast days” instead of “collation”. And the way you said it implied you were entitled to be unfamiliar with “fast days”; hence the reaction.

  60. marie-lucie says

    Yes, NN, that’s how I understood Nijma too: that she knew what “fast” meant but was unfamiliar with the word in a traditional Western context.

  61. mollymooly says

    “Am I the only one here who was brought up Catholic?”
    If that wasn’t a rhetorical question, my answer is “No”. Otherwise carry on.
    AFAIK, post-Vatican II, there are two remaining days of “fast and abstinence”, to wit Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the first and last full days of Lent. One fish dinner and two collations. Since we didn’t do fried breakfast in my house anyway, the collations were no hardship; it was the lack of snacks between meals that had to be offered up.
    Irish Catholicism wasn’t so much about stealing Protestant hymns as stealing English ones, notably “Faith of our Fathers” and “Lord of the Dance”. And the real shame* post-Vatican II has been the enthusiasm of bishops to gut the ornate interiors of Victorian gothic interiors in favour of blanks walls painted institutional beige.
    *The real shame in relation to artistic expression, I mean. Obviously not the real real shame.

  62. In the US ca 1910 the Irish Catholics were the English (even Cardinal Ireland himself), whereas the German Catholics were the resistant traditionalists.

  63. Also, with all due respect, you make the Victorian Gothic churches sound like those nested Russian dolls with interiors inside the interiors.

  64. He probably means gutting the interior life from the gothic interiors; removing the mirrored surfaces, so they are unreflective on the irony of their Victorianness and its contrast with the truth and honesty of modernism.

  65. she knew what “fast” meant but was unfamiliar with the word in a traditional Western context
    Fasting is certainly a global enough idea. Surgery patients fast after midnight; the reason is to keep the stomach empty since anesthesia often causes nausea. There is also a medical test called “fasting blood sugar” (FBS) that is important for detecting diabetes.
    Probably most people also have some idea that there are religions that have dietary restrictions, but as far as “a traditional Western context” (or a globally understood meaning for “fast day”) for speakers of English, I don’t think there is one. If anything, “traditional religion” would probably be the Church of England in the UK and Eastern Establishment Presbyterian in the U.S. although these days it is being replaced by Southern Baptist–but none of those three denominations have any food restrictions that I’ve ever heard of.
    In Jordan, everyone is aware of Ramadan, since Islam is the state religion (some say “The True Religion”). I was surprised to find out it is actually illegal to eat publicly during Ramadan. Certainly all the liquor stores (run by Christians) close and it is their opportunity for cleaning and remodeling. The “western tradition” has so many religions, how can you pick one and say it is The True Religion and expect everyone to know all the insider jargon. If people are tossing off phrases like “reconciling congregation”, “Vatican Two”, or “getting clear”, they probably think they are talking to other insiders; surely they don’t think theirs is the only religion or expect people from other religions to study their beliefs and history. I suspect that the apparent narrow religious meaning of “collation” used today is somewhat in this vein.

  66. marie-lucie says

    Nijma, by “Western” I did not have in mind the Western US, or the US in general, or even English-speaking North America, but the more ancient tradition in Western Europe. For about a thousand years before the Reformation there was one basic Christian tradition which was embodied in the Catholic Church (I am not talking about the Eastern churches in Greece, Russia, Byzantium, and points farther East). A degree of fasting or at least abstinence of some foods at various times was part of that tradition (and still is for some).
    I am certainly not making any claim about some religion or other being the “true” one, and it is possible to study other religions and their history while holding on to one’s own or out of intellectual interest in this important cultural phenomenon.

  67. bruessel says

    Fasting for lent is certainly a well-established concept in the Church of England:

  68. marie-lucie says

    The Anglicans I know do not “fast” in terms of abstaining from food, but they try to give up something they like to do – for instance, going to the movies – during Lent.

  69. Fasting for lent is certainly a well-established concept in the Church of England
    A “carbon fast”?… cut down on flying?!?? And “fast from anger, hostility, bitterness,”…um, aren’t those things you should be doing all year long?
    For about a thousand years before the Reformation there was one basic Christian tradition
    And before that was a pagan tradition. If you can believe the stories, they were originally about fertility. The fish eating practices have been attributed to worship of Freya, Aphrodite Salacia, and Ashtoreth, and the forty days of abstinence is said to have been directly borrowed from the Egyptian worship of Ishtar, preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz. (Marvin Harris’s book has more along the lines of religious food prohibitions.)
    The more I have studied religions, the more syncretism I have found. But how religion went from happiness and fertility to people believing that God wants to see them in pain, I will never figure out (yes, I’ve heard of those people who wear barbed wire under their clothes because they say human pain makes God happy.) If they want to believe that kind of thing themselves, it’s one thing, but if they want to act like everyone else believes it, well that’s just too much for me. /rant

  70. During Lent, I don’t take out the garbage.

  71. During Lent, I don’t take out the garbage.

  72. J.W. Brewer says

    Serious Lenten abstinence of a dietary nature survived the Reformation in the Church of England by about a century but seems not to have really survived the unfortunate difficulties of the 1640’s and ’50’s. When the Church proper was revived at the Restoration, that was one of the old practices that didn’t get revived as a lived reality as opposed to something you could still find some written commendation of. Somewhere in Pepys (writing after the Restoration) he notes having a proper Lenten supper (w/o meat and possibly w/o even dairy etc. — “pease porridge” from the old nursery rhyme was a good Lenten dish) but also notes it was the only time his household had done so that particular Lent. Nijma’s pagan-survival hypothesis, by the way, would need to be tweaked to explain why the Christians whose tradition comes from the Eastern Mediterranean traditionally refrain from vertebrate fish during strict fasts like Lent (although shellfish is always ok as the Holy Fathers seem to have treated them as honorary vegetables — note that this is exactly backwards from the distinction drawn in the kosher rules) while those with roots in the Western Mediterranean, Bay of Biscay etc. were ok with all seafood.

  73. J.W. Brewer says

    A very late addition, but I just came across St. John Cassian commenting favorably on lack of cross-linguistic communication (in the context of exegeting the 11th chapter of Genesis): “a happy and valuable discord had recalled to salvation those whom a ruinous union had driven to destruction.”

  74. Perhaps the inclusion of shellfish was originally a deliberate defiance of the ritual law:

    “And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.” —Lev. 11:11-12

    See also God Hates Shrimp.

  75. January First-of-May says

    Incidentally, while we’re at that, is there any truth to the story that medieval Europeans thought beavers to be acceptable “fish” for Lent, because beavers mostly live in rivers, so European beavers ended up being hunted almost to extinction?
    IIRC, there’s sometimes an addendum that the Venezuelan capybara had also been declared Lent-acceptable in the Venezuelan Catholic community, but that the population of capybaras is so great and they themselves are so large that they are currently in no danger of extinction.

    I’ve definitely heard of this story somewhere (and probably in many places), but don’t recall where, and apparently Wikipedia doesn’t mention it at all, which makes me suspicious.

  76. When I was two, Bruno the capybara got loose at the Bronx Zoo and ran right by me. I have been fascinated by those giant rodents ever since.

  77. It is in fact mentioned in WP s.v. beaver. It’s never been a matter of a formal dispensation, but Aquinas talked about land vs. water creatures (as opposed to meat vs. fish), and there definitely are folk practices, like Catholics around Detroit eating muskrat for Lent, so we may speak of an irregular dispensation, or at least an agreement to look the other way. (I suspect that eating muskrat might be more of a penance than an indulgence, but what do I know.)

  78. Compare Chinese food and kashrut.

  79. David Marjanović says

    to the story that medieval Europeans thought beavers to be acceptable “fish” for Lent, because beavers mostly live in rivers, so European beavers ended up being hunted almost to extinction

    That’s two stories. At various times, the Catholic Church did indeed – perhaps locally, I don’t know – declare beavers and anything else vaguely water-related to be acceptable during Lent. The hunting almost to extinction, however, happened only in the 19th century, specifically when hats (!) made from beaver fur were in fashion.

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

    I possibly mentioned this in another thread: Colloquial Swedish has much use of the verb kolla ‘check / check out’ (as in Kolla den killen/tjejen!) which is popularly assumed to be a short form of kontrollera. It turns out, however, that it’s from kollationera ‘compare side by side’.

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