Bee Wilson, whose LRB reviews have been quoted here before (2009, 2019), had one last year (archived) of Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionised Food in America by Mayukh Sen and The Philosophy of Curry by Sejal Sukhadwala. She spends the entire review talking about curry, which probably irritated Mr. Sen, but if you’re interested in the subject it’s well worth reading. Herewith some sections addressing the word and its meaning:

As a child in the early 1980s, I believed that curry was synonymous with Indian food and that Indian food was synonymous with curry […] As a teenager, I started cooking from Madhur Jaffrey’s books and saw with a jolt that, for Indian cooks, hearing British people declaring they loved curry could come across as a crass postcolonial misrepresentation. Jaffrey arrived in London from Delhi in 1955 to study at Rada, and taught herself to cook using her mother’s recipes because she disliked English food (except fish and chips). In England, Indian food was thought to be anything sprinkled with curry powder: a substance Elizabeth David described as ‘unlikeable, harshly flavoured, and possessed of an aroma clinging and as all-pervading in its way as that of English boiled cabbage or cauliflower’. ‘To me the word “curry” is as degrading to India’s great cuisine as the term “chop suey” was to China’s,’ Jaffrey wrote in An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973). ‘“Curry” is just a vague, inaccurate word which the world has picked up from the British, who, in turn, got it mistakenly from us … If “curry” is an oversimplified name for an ancient cuisine, then “curry powder” attempts to oversimplify (and destroy) the cuisine itself.’

Another Indian food writer who tried to reclaim Indian food was Julie Sahni, whose Classic Indian Cooking was published in 1980. […] Sahni, who was born in 1945, learned to cook as a child in the north Indian city of Kanpur. When she was nine, she and her three sisters started cooking for the family every summer. Sen writes that ‘she spent her evenings making phulkas, watching the whole wheat breads inflate on burners like birthday balloons.’ When Sahni arrived in America with her husband in the late 1960s, she worked in urban planning, but as a sideline set up Indian cooking classes which became so popular that they were fully booked two years in advance. Classic Indian Cooking, still regarded as one of the best primers of Indian cooking, grew out of these classes. It didn’t include any recipes for curry. She explained this with steely precision: ‘Curry is the Western pronunciation of the Indian word kari, which can mean one of two things: the sweet, aromatic leaves of the kari plant used in southern and south-western Indian regional cooking, or the southern cooking techniques of preparing stir-fried vegetables such as green beans with coconut.’ She found it frustrating that dishes which already had perfectly good names were being renamed ‘curry’, even in India. One of the examples she gave was Murghi Ka Salan, ‘chicken in spice gravy’, which was now often called ‘Chicken Curry’ or ‘Chicken Kari’, although ‘the Indian kari bears no resemblance to the English curry, which is made without using Indian cooking techniques and using packaged curry powder.’ […]

For all its flaws, we seem to be stuck with the word because there are many occasions when there is no satisfactory synonym in the English language. Look at what a hash the OED makes of trying to pin it down. Curry, it says, is ‘a preparation of meat, fish, fruit or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric, and used as a relish or flavouring, esp. for dishes composed of or served with rice. Hence, a curry = a dish or stew (of rice, meat, etc) flavoured with this preparation (or with curry powder).’ This definition is both far too specific and too vague. The OED seems to suggest that curry can be any old stew flavoured with curry powder (which could describe many of the homemade British versions of the mid to late 20th century, the sort that came garnished with banana slices and with raisins on the side). But it also indicates that curry is a very specific ‘preparation’ made with ‘bruised spices and turmeric’. This is odd. Why are the spices ‘bruised’ and not ground or, for that matter, kept whole? Why is turmeric singled out and why say ‘turmeric and bruised spices’, which suggests that turmeric is not itself a spice. There is also considerable confusion about rice. Curry is said to be a ‘relish or flavouring, esp. for dishes composed of or served with rice’ but also ‘a dish or stew (of rice, meat, etc) flavoured with this preparation’. And why specify that curry should be made with ‘meat, fish, fruit or vegetables’ and fail to mention other ingredients on which a curry may be based, such as paneer, the universal cheese of India?

The most striking omission of all from the OED definition is India itself (though the section on etymology notes the word’s Tamil origins: ‘Tamil kari sauce, relish for rice, Kannada karil, whence Portuguese caril, and earlier English and French forms; modern French is cari’). It’s true there are now countless dishes that many people would now call curry which are not Indian: Thai and Malaysian curries, or Indonesian rendang or the strange but compelling Japanese karē raisu, or curry with rice, a thick brown roux-thickened curry sauce introduced to the Japanese by Royal Navy officers in the late 19th century, which has been reintroduced into Britain as a Japanese delicacy, notably by the Wagamama restaurant chain. But none of these curries would have been called curry were it not for the earlier history of Indian food (and the British relationship with it).

Sejal Sukhadwala, a London-based Indian food writer, sets herself the task of defining what curry is before tracing its history, its arrival in Britain and its export around the world. The word kari dates back to the Portuguese in Goa in the 16th century. It was they who brought chillies to India from the New World and in turn travelled home with a new word: caril. In 1563 the Portuguese physician Garcia e Orta observed that Indians in Goa ‘made dishes of flesh and fowl, which they call caril’. As Sukhadwala glosses, the word kari may mean many things in Tamil: ‘either black pepper, spices generally, a spiced accompaniment to rice, a sauce, sauteed meat and vegetable dishes or “to eat by biting”’. In the 18th century caril became curry, with the fall of the Portuguese spice monopoly in Goa and the rise of the East India Company. The first curry recipe in English – ‘To Make a Currey the India Way’ – appeared in the 1747 edition of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (which also included three recipes for pilau). Chicken or rabbit is ‘cut as for a fricasey’ and cooked in butter with coriander seeds, onions and thirty peppercorns, simmered and then flavoured with lemon juice and cream. Glasse’s curry sounds dull on the page but is actually surprisingly delicious, with a pungency from the pepper and a silky richness from the cream.

What makes this dish a curry rather than a peppery chicken stew? Jaffrey comments that Glasse’s recipe is ‘hardly a curry and more of a gravy’. For Sukhadwala, the key to a curry is that it is ‘a spiced dish of Indian origin or influence’. It is this Indian influence – whether accurately rendered or not – that matters. Curry, she says, is a dish ‘in which vegetables or meat or other protein are normally cooked in a pot, usually with a gravy made from tomatoes, onions, coconut, yoghurt, gram flour, nuts, cream, water or stock’. This takes us a lot further than the OED, though not far enough, not least because modern curries are often baked on a tray in the oven – or blasted in an air fryer or a microwave or stir-fried, like the green beans Sahni mentions – rather than cooked in a pot over heat.

In her pithy and clever book, Sukhadwala mounts a persuasive defence of the concept of curry against a loose coalition she calls the ‘curry deniers’, ‘Indians, often from the diaspora, who hate the term “curry”’. She concedes that they have good reason. Objections to curry can be grouped into two main charges, both of which were touched on by Jaffrey in 1973: the word is a) inaccurate and b) offensive. If curry is a blunt misrepresentation of Indian food, this is a symptom of a deeper problem: its strong association with British imperialism. Is this what Jaffrey meant by ‘degrading’? Sukhadwala writes that, for some, the word ‘brings back painful memories of being told by other schoolchildren in the playground that they smell of curry’. […]

And yet it is not clear, as Sukhadwala argues, that curry could or should be cancelled. As she writes, ‘for every Indian who says they didn’t grow up using the word curry or buying curry powder there are many others who did.’ At the same time, the Western ignorance about Indian food that Sahni complained about has gradually lessened, in large part thanks to writers and TV presenters like her and Jaffrey. ‘Many non-Indians have enthusiastically embraced chaat, dosas, samosas and all kinds of other non-curry items.’ Sukhadwala believes it’s ‘already too late’ to cancel curry: ‘Try telling a Japanese schoolboy tucking into his karē raisu, or a Trinidadian street vendor selling curry-stuffed roti that the dish they love doesn’t exist.’ Some of the curry deniers have softened their stance. As Sukhadwala notes, in the years since Jaffrey’s diatribe against curry in 1973, she has written a series of curry-themed books including Curry Easy, Curry Easy Vegetarian, 100 Essential Curries, 100 Weeknight Curries, Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible and Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation. Presumably, this was partly a way of luring as many readers as possible by seeming to offer something familiar. In Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation she wrote: ‘If Britain once colonised India, India has now returned the favour by watching spellbound as its food completely colonised Britain.’ That book was dedicated to Britain, ‘the Curry Nation that welcomed me all those many years ago’.

I can add only that I love curry in all its forms, and Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking has had an honored place on my kitchen bookshelf for decades. (We discussed “the grammar of curry” back in 2010.)


  1. There’s also the word kebab, which in English means something that is emphatically NOT kebap in Bulgarian, but English speakers still use it for something on a skewer. Kebap in Bulgarian is a stew mostly made of meat, rather that yahniya, which is mostly plant-based. English “kebab” is the _opposite_ of Bulgarian “kebap”. Bulgarian kebap is stewed meat in a pot. Some English speaker still insist on calling shish “kebap” when speaking Bulgarian, despite being aware that it doesn’t mean that in Bulgarian.

  2. Shish as in skewred meat.

  3. David Marjanović says

    the sort that came garnished with banana slices and with raisins on the side

    The full horror of the 1970s!

    Kebap in Bulgarian is a stew

    That’s a Bulgarian innovation, then – even in Turkish it’s not a stew.

  4. All ultimately from Arabic كباب:

    The root ك ب ب‎ (k-b-b) appears to include various meanings of “rolling over”. But according to Nişanyan, borrowed from Aramaic: compare Jewish Babylonian Aramaic כבבא‎ (kbbʾ, “roasting of meat”), כיבה‎ (kybʾ, “perhaps roasted meat”), which are from the verb כבב‎ (kbb, “to burn, roast”), ultimately from Proto-Semitic *kabab- (“to burn, to roast”), whence also Akkadian 𒅗𒁀𒁍 (/kabābu/, “to burn”).

  5. Curry was (and remains) a mystery for me.

    I knew the word in 80s and 90s from Western literature, it sounded like some Western “Indian” food (I did not really associate it with India, not as much because I did not see it in Indian novels – I did not read Indian novels – but because it was not really associated with India in Western novels), and sometimes it sounded like a spice – but what spice? it did not sound like a name of a plant – and sometimes it sounded like a dish – but it was impossible to tell which one.

  6. Russian Wikipedia does not mention any incursion of curry into Russia (and all the references are in English).

  7. drasvi: When I became acquainted with Anglosphere Indian cuisine, I was really surprised that “keema” (кайма) was a name for a specific Indian dish in English, rather than just a generic term for “minced meat”, as in Bulgarian.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    I remember many years ago my Pakistan-resident aunt telling me that “curry” was not really even a concept in actual subcontinental cuisine.

  9. Do I dare mention Currywurst? No…

  10. Paradoxically, kbb ‘burn’ might be cognate with Hebrew kbh, ‘extinguish a fire’ (tr. and intr.) I read that it itself supposedly has an Arabic cognate, kabā ‘glow; hide fire under ashes’, but could not confirm that.

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat, drasvi
    I believe I have had kasha risovaja in Russia (for breakfast!) prepared in a way which would have corresponded to my idea of curried rice. But maybe this was more something for Asian travellers.

  12. Stu Clayton says

    At one Indian restaurant here in Cologne, curry is being cancelled in a novel way. I had very good food there two years ago (dansak, murgh jalfrezi etc). This week I stopped there for lunch. Almost everything on the menu now says “mit Maggi-Würze“. And the sabzi dansak tasted accordingly. I suppose the owner is trying to make Indian food more attractive to older Germans set in their ways.

    It’s like serving enchiladas filled with peanut butter.

  13. As your former avatar said back in 2010:

    Over the weekend, the Karambolage program on arte TV was explaining Maggiwürze, or simply Maggi, to the French audience. Maggi is a German “taste enhancer” for soups etc., a bottle of which used to be found in most German households and probably still is – sort of like Worchestershire sauce. It is dark brown and moderately revolting in taste – like concentrate of lovage leaf. It was invented by Herr Maggi at the end of the 19th century as an aid to overworked housewives, along with soup cubes etc.

    (There is further discussion of the use of Maggi in Senegalese cuisine.)

  14. Huh:

    In Germany, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Bénin, Gambia, Sénégal, Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania and parts of the Middle East, Maggi cubes are an integral part of the local cuisine. In Haiti and throughout Latin America, Maggi products, especially bouillon cubes, are widely sold with some repackaging to reflect local terminology. In the German, Dutch, and Danish languages, lovage has come to be known as Maggi herb (Ger. Maggikraut, Du. maggikruid or maggiplant, Da. maggiurt), because it tastes similar to Maggi sauce, although lovage is not present in the sauce.

  15. FYI:

    ZUTATEN: pflanzliches Eiweiß, biologisch aufgeschlossen (Wasser, WEIZENPROTEIN, Salz), Wasser, Aromen (mit WEIZEN), Geschmacksverstärker (Mononatriumglutamat, Dinatriuminosinat), Salz, Zucker.

    Which I read as ‘flavored goo with MSG’. —appropriately strong emoji—

  16. David Marjanović says

    “Flavor enhancer” (Geschmacksverstärker) refers to disembodied umami powders: glutamate, inosinate and suchlike. The sauce contains three or so of those, plus salt, and is otherwise soy-based. It’s meant to be used in very small amounts. Indeed, I’ve found you can turn it into a soup by adding a shot to some warm water.

    Lovage (mostly Liebstöckel ~ Luschstock) remains an important ingredient in clear soups. The leaves and stems, not the root, Danes.

    ‘flavored goo with MSG’

    Amino acids (from wheat, not soy apparently) plus extra MSG and disodium inosinate. And salt. And sugar. …And extra flavors made by applying some proprietary magic to wheat.

  17. The word kari dates back to the Portuguese in Goa in the 16th century. It was they who brought chillies to India from the New World …

    Yeah, before India gets all culturally imperialist: thank the Europeans. And the Portuguese took chillies/peppers all over their dominions in East Asia, so Malaysian/Indonesian, Thai, spicy South Chinese/Szechuan, all have some claim to spicy sauce for cooking meats/veggies with rice. (The Japanese interpretation I do find … weird. But it seems to be big in Taiwan.)

    What would Indian cuisine have been without chillis? Or potatoes or tomatoes? (I once had this debate with an Indian from Kerala: we came to no conclusion.)

    I am totally in love with Indian/East Asian cookery of all varieties. And have a shelffull of Madhur Jaffrey, Jack Santa Maria and earlier Indian cookery books from the days before it was easy to get hold of authentic spices and ingredients (Britain in the ’70’s).

  18. What would Indian cuisine have been without chillis?

    I wondered, too, then answered my own question.

  19. Cubes or liquid, Maggi-brand stuff’s flavour is mostly about the hydrogenated aminoacids. I prefer the liquid stuff. It’s practically vital in certain recipes, in my opinion. Particularly in pasta sauce. You can replace it with fish sauce, but then it gets too fishy. (You add some fish sauce too, of course — that’s also vital to get the authentic taste).

  20. The root ك ب ب‎ (k-b-b) appears to include various meanings of “rolling over”. But according to Nişanyan, borrowed from Aramaic: compare Jewish Babylonian Aramaic כבבא‎ (kbbʾ, “roasting of meat”), כיבה‎ (kybʾ, “perhaps roasted meat”), which are from the verb כבב‎ (kbb, “to burn, roast”), ultimately from Proto-Semitic *kabab- (“to burn, to roast”), …

    Ultimately issuing, of course, in English BBQ through a misreading of the right-to-left Semitic sources. (Whence also, more speculatively: BBQ source. Non-rhotic Australian English especially.)

  21. Very guttural language, the Australian.

  22. Yes. Our Norsetratic origins. And a PIE and source was the national dish for most of the twentieth century.

  23. @drasvi: Part of your confusion may stem from the fact the scope of curry is quite different in Britain and America. (I don’t know about the terminology in the other three Eyes.*) In Britain, curry can be used fairly broadly for just about any South Asian dish with rice and sauce. However, in America, that is not so much the case; in my vocabulary, neither rogan josh or chicken vindaloo is a curry—although the boundary is certainly fuzzy, and other Americans might include one or both of them in the curry category. Moreover, to many Americans, the curry more typically refers to the sauce in which the other elements of a dish (the meat, cheese, rice, and larger vegetable pieces, for example) are covered, rather than the aggregate dish itself.

    Coming from a different cultural background than I do, Bee Wilson probably has a different view on the nature and prototypical character of a curry. There was a lot that I found quite weird in the excerpt from her piece. In fact, if I had read some of what was quoted in the post in an article by an American food writer, it would probably have come across as obnoxiously disingenuous. For example, “Why is turmeric singled out and why say ‘turmeric and bruised spices,’ which suggests that turmeric is not itself a spice?”** would have, to me, a simple answer—that without turmeric as the (or a) primary spice, the dish is not a curry. Other spices, such as coriander (seed), cumin, and hot peppers, can enhance the curry-ness of a dish, but it’s just not a curry without turmeric playing a major role. The later question, “What makes this dish a curry rather than a peppery chicken stew?” would come across as playing dumb in the opposite direction. Again, it’s probably the turmeric, which the author had already learned from the OED.

    * I would normally say “the rest of the English-speaking world,” but that would include a large population in South Asia who I am not talking about here. Linguistically, this distinction is entirely at the level of pragmatics, since the statement would still be accurate—in that I don’t really know what curry means to English speakers in, say, Bangladesh—but those aren’t the people I want to talk about.

    ** In addition to correcting the punctuation error in the quote, which is missing its question mark, I have normalized the quotation marks to appear as if I am quoting an American writer. Ironically however, this did not actually mean changing the quotation marks from single to double, since they appear in a nested quotation!

  24. @Brett: i think in my earliest conception of “curry”, which was very much as a specific zone of flavors / (ground) spices, the essential elements were cumin and turmeric, with coriander a slightly less necessary third. some black pepper, cayenne, and salt too, i’d think, but those aren’t either necessary or sufficient. but i do think i had an understanding that actual “indian” (south asian) food was something entirely different, with “curry” appearing on menus as a basically-wrong translation or a signal of an americanized dish – much better to order something from the tandoor, or a dosa, depending on which end of the limited available spectrum the restaurant was at.

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

    FWIW, in Denmark karry is the spice mix and the sauce. Boller i karry = ‘(boiled) meatballs in curry sauce with rice’ is so common that the preparation method and the rice are implicit.

    (When I moved to 500m from a restaurant called Vietnam in 1984, I thought I’d be able to get something “authentic” or at least different from Danish. But I got boller i karry just like my Mom made it. The time was not ripe).

  26. For example, “Why is turmeric singled out and why say ‘turmeric and bruised spices,’ which suggests that turmeric is not itself a spice?”** would have, to me, a simple answer—that without turmeric as the (or a) primary spice, the dish is not a curry.

    You’ve missed her point. She’s not wondering why turmeric is mentioned, she’s wondering why it’s phrased the way it is (“turmeric and … spices”), which, as she says, suggests that turmeric is not itself a spice.

  27. @languagehat: As I said, her view of what constitutes curry is so different from mine that much of the time, I’m not sure what point she is actually endeavoring to make. For example, she mocks certainly dishes flavored with curry powder, as if they are obviously not curry, presumably because they are not actually Indian (or South Asian). However, dishes like that absolutely are “curry” to me.

    So I confess that it’s hard to see where she is coming from. Yet even so, her questions about how the spices in curry are described do seem to be missing an important point. Her first question, which I didn’t quote, actually seems entirely reasonable. Why does that definition specify “bruised” spices? I have no idea. However, once you accept that whoever came up with that definition was serious about the “bruised spices’ requirement, the phrasing seems intelligible. Why is turmeric mentioned specifically? Because without turmeric, it’s not curry. Why isn’t there an “other” or something in “turmeric and [other] bruised spices,” indicating turmeric is also a spice? Because turmeric cannot normally be a bruised spice. As I said, I agree that the bruising seems a weird and unnecessary requirement, but if you are committed to it, you’re committed. Since turmeric comes from a dense rhizome, you can’t really get the flavor out of it by bruising and boiling it; the same applies to ginger.

    * She sloppily lists two different word orders, both ostensibly direct quotes, so I don’t know which is the real one (or if it’s actually neither or both).

  28. ktschwarz says

    The definition that Bee Wilson is snotty about was written in 1893 (as you might guess from the dated-sounding phrasing “a quantity of bruised spices”); I don’t think it’s nerdview of me to expect her to know that context, and to give it to her readers, if she’s going to dissect it. The current Oxford Languages definition is “a dish of meat, vegetables, etc., cooked in an Indian-style sauce of hot-tasting spices and typically served with rice.”

    Fair cop that India should have been mentioned in the 1893 definition, though it was also clear from the quotations.

    The order is “bruised spices and turmeric” in the quotation of the full definition a few lines earlier. I agree with Brett that sloppily switching the order to “turmeric and bruised spices” from one line to the next, while keeping it in quotation marks, goes poorly with nitpicking about the phrasing. I also agree that if it doesn’t have turmeric it isn’t curry, though possibly that detail is too specialized for a general dictionary; I didn’t find any current general dictionary mentioning turmeric in the definition of curry in a quick survey (AHD, MW,, Collins, Macmillan, Cambridge, wiktionary).

  29. For example, she mocks certainly dishes flavored with curry powder, as if they are obviously not curry, presumably because they are not actually Indian (or South Asian). However, dishes like that absolutely are “curry” to me.

    You really have not read carefully at all, presumably because your own feelings are so strong. She does not “mock” dishes flavored with curry powder, she quotes Elizabeth David as attacking curry powder. Her own feelings are complex (as is curry itself), but the final paragraph clearly suggests she has come around to a broad tolerance. If you insist on taking issue with her (she is, I might point out, reviewing books, not writing a definitive essay), you might want to read the whole thing (the archived version I linked to should be accessible) with an eye to understanding what she’s saying rather than irritatedly searching out wording that you can take issue with.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    I recently had “Irish Chicken Curry” for lunch at an Irish-themed bar, and it seemed as authentically Irish as the no-modifier “Chicken Curry” I used to get as a boy for lunch in the cafeteria of the American School in Japan is authentically Japanese. Perhaps neither is very authentically Indian. So? Buddhism, for example, had evolved/shifted quite a bit from its Indian origins by the time it arrived in Japan and was then further tweaked by the locals. An English-language dictionary should not take sides on which version of Buddhism is the most (or only?) authentic one.

    I do not endorse Y’s fearful (or mock-fearful) refusal to delve into the wonders (linguistic or otherwise) of currywurst.

  31. Having said that, I too agree with Brett that sloppily switching the order to “turmeric and bruised spices” from one line to the next, while keeping it in quotation marks, goes poorly with nitpicking about the phrasing.

  32. ktschwarz says

    The OED’s 1893 definition is, unsurprisingly, cribbed from Hobson-Jobson, which follows the definition with a discussion of how Europeans use the word much more broadly than the original languages (also brought up in Wilson’s review):

    In the East the staple food consists of some cereal, either (as in N. India) in the form of flour baked into unleavened cakes, or boiled in the grain, as rice is. Such food having little taste, some small quantity of a much more savoury preparation is added as a relish, or ‘kitchen,’ to use the phrase of our forefathers. And this is in fact the proper office of curry in native diet. It consists of meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric [see MUSSALLA]; and a little of this gives a flavour to a large mess of rice. The word is Tam. kari, i.e. ‘sauce’; [kari, v. ‘to eat by biting’]. The Canarese form karil was that adopted by the Portuguese, and is still in use at Goa. It is remarkable in how many countries a similar dish is habitual … In England the proportions of rice and “kitchen” are usually reversed, so that the latter is made to constitute the bulk of the dish.

    It should be added that kari was, among the people of S. India, the name of only one form of ‘kitchen’ for rice, viz. of that in consistency resembling broth, as several of the earlier quotations indicate. Europeans have applied it to all the savoury concoctions of analogous spicy character eaten with rice. These may be divided into three classes — viz. (1), that just noticed; (2), that in the form of a stew of meat, fish or vegetables; (3), that called by Europeans ‘dry curry.’ These form the successive courses of a Hindu meal in S. India, and have in the vernaculars several discriminating names.

    (IMHO the OED would have done better to just quote Hobson-Jobson with credit, as they did in many other definitions, if they had nothing more original to contribute.)

  33. I bake salmon with pepper and squeezed lemon. If I jogged that morning, it’s just salmon, but if I’ve gone to hot yoga, it’s curried fish.

    If I add cilantro, it’s fish tacos.

    The kids may consent to a nibble or two with their boxed mac and cheese. I think that makes it American cuisine

    Edit: If ktschwarz’s early OED citation is reasonably accurate, then breadth of definition was present from the start, and in the word borrowed, and the normal American usage, essentially “a sauce with spices from South Asia,” seems reasonably authentic.

  34. ktschwarz says

    Hobson-Jobson’s sense of kitchen was new to me. OED (2020): “4b. Any foodstuff (often meat, fish, or butter) eaten with a plain staple food such as bread or potatoes to make it more flavoursome or appetizing; (sometimes) spec. a condiment, sauce, or relish. Cf. kitchen meat n. at Compounds 10. Now Scottish, Irish English, and English regional (northern).”

  35. The first two results from Google “bruised spice”:
    How to bruise spices: The aim of bruising spices is to help release their flavour and aroma from the inner seeds as well as add texture to a dish. 1 Place spices in a mortar 2 Use a pestle to bruise the spices in a downward circular motion 3 The aim is to gently bruise the spices, not completely crush them Uses: Try this method when making curry dishes such as Shaun Hill’s John Dory with potato rasam or Andy Water’s Sweet potato and chicken curry.

    How to Bruise Cardamom: Cardamom is an intensely aromatic spice widely used in Indian cooking. It comes in two varieties: black and green. The most commonly used of these is green, which has a slightly smoother flavor, and is easily found in most large supermarkets. To use cardamom in curries and stews, recipes often say to “bruise” the cardamom, which softens it and releases the aroma for a stronger flavor.
    I assume there is an association between curry and bruised spices.

  36. turmeric in Wiktionary: “[f]rom Middle English turmeryte, tarmaret, of uncertain origin”. Wow.

  37. Entries for the other word (kurkum-…) are messy.

    kurkuma, Polish: Borrowed from Late Latin curcuma, from Arabic كُرْكُم‎ (kurkum).”
    Hungarian: Borrowed from German Kurkuma, from Spanish cúrcuma, from Arabic كُرْكُم‎ (kurkum, “turmeric”).
    Kurkuma, German: Borrowed from Italian curcuma.
    Curcuma, Translingual: From New Latin, from Arabic كُرْكُم‎ (kurkum, “turmeric”).

    Romance entries say cúrcuma, curcuma is from Arabic kurkum. All right, all those Romance languages are the same, and this little -a, does it matter?

    But are they sure it was borrowed from Arabs and not in India? Cf. (كركم):

    Semitic cognates include Aramaic כּוּרְכְּמָא‎, ܟܽܘܪܟܡܳܐ‎ (kurkmā), Akkadian 𒌑𒆪𒄀𒆸𒈾 (/kurkanū/), Hebrew כַּרְכֹּם / כַּרְכֹּום‎ (karkom); however because of non-philological evidence it is a preferred assumption that the Arabic word comes via India, from Sanskrit कुङ्कुम (kuṅkuma).

    Akin to Middle Persian [Book Pahlavi needed] (kwlkwm /kurkum/), Old Armenian քրքում (kʿrkʿum), Old Georgian ქურქუმაჲ (kurkumay), Ancient Greek κρόκος (krókos).

    कुङ्कुम • (kuṅkuma) : 1. saffron Synonyms: see Thesaurus:केसर 2. kumkum

    Trésor de la langue française,

    Prononc. et Orth. : [kyʀkyma]. Ds Ac. 1762-1878. Étymol. et Hist. 1559 (M. Mathée, trad. de Dioscoride, 9 a d’apr. H. Vaganay ds Rom. Forsch., t. 32, p. 41). Empr., de même que l’esp. cúrcuma (dep. 1555 d’apr. Cor.), à l’ar.kurkum (v. FEW t. 19, p. 100). Bbg. Lammens 1890, pp. 92-93.

  38. @drasvi: That mention of “non-philological evidence” sounds nonsensical to me as a non-linguist. Insofar as philology is the study of the history of language, I would think of any evidence regarding to the history and etymology of a word should be, by definition, philological. However, I presume that the specialists who wrote that had a more limited conception, so that things like archeological evidence of how spices were used in the past, or painted images of foodstuffs would fall outside the realm of philology.

    I am writing this as I finish my meal at the Shalimar Curry House across from my office. (Having this discussion in mind probably prompted me to eat here today. However, the morphic resonance doesn’t stop there!) Especially now, when classes are not in session and the place not so busy, the clientele is overwhelmingly South Asian. However, South Asia, or even just India, is a broad territory. A student just came in and ordered, but there was some confusion between him and the woman who owns the Shalimar Curry House—ironically over the meaning of curry! The student asked what kind of curries they had, and the owner started listing different kinds of sauces. However, he clarified that he meant what kind of meats (or other vegetarian options) did they have in their (narrowly-construed, presumably turmeric-based) yellow-brown curry. The two of them came from different parts of India. That was evident from the additional difficulty they had in understanding each other’s accents. In fact, when she asked him how spicy he wanted his curry, he said, “Make it Indian,” and she responded with surprise, “Oh, are you from India? I thought you were from here.” To me, it was obvious that neither of them had been raised in America, but his accent was evidently so different from hers that she could not recognize that it belonged to a native Hindi speaker like herself, rather than an American of South Asian descent who would have been fluent in English since childhood. At one point, when they were having particular trouble communicating on one point, he switched to Hindi, after the rest of the conversation had been in English, and she understood immediately what he was saying; but then they nonetheless went back to English to finish the order. I don’t know to what extent the differences in their default meanings of curry was related to their different regional origins, but the whole exchange was interesting nonetheless.

  39. @PP, yesterday I began writing a comment addressed to LH and mentioned rice kasha. Then I refreshed the page and saw your comment and began writing a comment to you (and fell asleep).

    It is interesting. Kasha is just cooked cereals. It can be liquid and sticky (I won’t eat it) or it can be crumbly (rassypchataya, lit. strew-y). Some cook rice in milk (I won’t eat it). But we never add spices!

    Unrelated: I don’t like rice other than in sushi and pilaf – or maybe I just don’t like Russian-style rice kasha – and I describe improperly cooked pilaf as “rice kasha”. So does my Uzbek friend.

    My particular problem was that I discovered that Soviet cafeteria (and also some people) cook stuff that they call “pilaf” (two varieties: “pilaf” and “sweet pilaf”, with raisins) but which does not taste or look like what I call “pilaf”. Analytically it has semblance to it: the rice is there and the colour is not white. So either I postulate two styles of pilaf or approach it analytically. Any pilaf is kasha, but this variety has certain elements of rice kasha taste that normal pilaf does not. This can be an illusion (people of different races may recemble apes to each other: white people are hairy, black people are black and so on) and it is still more edible that normal rice kasha (I just don’t find it tasty), so… let’s call it kasha when we grumble at it.

    As for Agzam, we were cooking it and wrong cooking time (and/or amount of water) would “make it rice kasha, not pilaf”.

    @Brett, thank you, I think your comment clarifies some of the confusion. I still don’t know what exactly is “curry” for you (that it may or must contain cheese is a surprise!), but yet:)

    “turmeric and bruised spices” – I read it as “turmeric is what makes it curry”.

    There is this possibility that turmeric is not a spice, which makes the phrase awakward. Perhaps разные “various” would soften it… in Russian it is the style of school essays (how I spent this summer in the jungle: “there were many various plants”) and simple people explaining simple things in simple words, avoided in Serious Literature, yet it suits. “Bruised” also softens it.

  40. “Agzam”
    Abu Éinar…

  41. speaking of the Portuguese influence on Asian cooking – maybe this is old news to everyone here, but I recently learned “vindaloo” has nothing to do with potatoes (aloo), (which solves a mystery I’d long wondered about, since vindaloo doesn’t usually involve potatoes), but is from something Portuguese about wine and garlic.

  42. Aloo originally referred to the Elephant-foot yam.

  43. Identical to âlu “plum”.

    Is the Persian word (‘From Middle Persian [Book Pahlavi needed] (ʾlwk’ /ālūg/, “plum, prune”)’) anyhow related to the Indian word (‘Inherited from Sauraseni Prakrit 𑀆𑀮𑀼𑀕 (āluga), from Sanskrit आलुक (āluka, “elephant foot yam”). Doublet of आलु (ālu) and आलुक (āluk)’)?

  44. Is the Persian word (‘From Middle Persian [Book Pahlavi needed] (ʾlwk’ /ālūg/, “plum, prune”)’) anyhow related to the Indian word

    I would love to know more about the ulterior history of Persian ālū ‘plum’, but I haven’t been able to find much…

    Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, has the following mention of a word ἦλα (presumed singular *ἦλον) in a discussion of plums (text and translation quickly taken from the Perseus site):

    Κλέαρχος δʼ ὁ περιπατητικός φησι Ῥοδίους καὶ Σικελιώτας βράβυλα καλεῖν τὰ κοκκύμηλα, ὡς καὶ Θεόκριτος ὁ Συρακούσιος·

    ὅρπηκες βραβίλοισι καταβρίθοντες ἔραζε.

    καὶ πάλιν·

    ὅσον μῆλον βραβίλοιο ἥδιον.

    ἐστὶ δὲ τοῦτο τὸ ἀκρόδρυον μικρότερον μὲν τῇ περιφορᾷ τῶν κοκκυμήλων, τῇ δʼ ἐδωδῇ τὸ αὐτό, πλὴν ὀλίγον δριμύτερον. Σέλευκος δʼ ἐν Γλώσσαις βράβιλά φησιν ἦλα κοκκύμηλα μάδρυα τὰ αὐτὰ εἶναι· τὰ μὲν μάδρυα οἷον μαλόδρυα, τὰ δὲ βράβυλα ὅτι εὐκοίλια καὶ τὴν βορὰν ἐκβάλλοντα, ἦλα δὲ οἷον μῆλα, ὡς Δημήτριος ὁ Ἰξίων λέγει ἐν Ἐτυμολογίᾳ. Θεόφραστος δὲ λέγει· κοκκυμηλέα καὶ σποδιάς· τοῦτο δʼ ἐστὶν ὥσπερ ἀγρία κοκκυμηλέα. Ἀραρὼς δὲ κοκκύμηλον καλεῖ τὸ δένδρον, κοκκύμηλον δὲ τὸ ἀκρόδρυον. Δίφιλος δὲ ὁ Σίφνιος μέσως φησὶν εἶναι ταῦτα εὔχυλα, εὔφθαρτα, εὐέκκριτα, ὀλιγότροφα.

    But Clearchus the Peripatetic says that the Rhodians and Sicilians call plums βράβιλα, and so Theocritus the Syracusan uses the word—

    Heavy with plums, the branches swept the ground.

    And again he says—

    Far as the apple doth the plum surpass.

    But the damascene [rather, sloe?] is smaller in circumference than other plums, though in flavour it is very like them, except that it is a little sharper. Seleucus, in his Dictionary, says βράβιλα, ἦλα, κοκκύμηλα, and μάδρυα are all different names for the same thing; and that plums are called βράβυλα, as being good for the stomach, and βορὰν ἐκβάλλοντα, that is, assisting to remove the food; and ἦλα, which is the same word as μῆλα, meaning simply fruit, as Demetrius Ixion says in his Etymology. And Theophrastus says, κοκκύμηλα καὶ σποδιάς: σποδιάς being a kind of wild plum. And Araros calls the tree which bears the fruit κοκκυμηλέα, and the fruit itself κοκκύμηλον. And Diphilus of Siphnos pronounces plums to be juicy, digestible, and easily evacuated, but not very nutritious.

    I assume the Seleucus in question is this one (entry from the Suda):

    Σέλευκος, Ἀλεξανδρεύς, γραμματικός, ὃς ἐπεκλήθη Ὁμηρικός· ἐσοφίστευσε δὲ ἐν Ῥώμῃ. ἔγραψεν ἐξηγητικὰ εἰς πάντα ὡς εἰπεῖν ποιητήν: Περὶ τῆς ἐν συνωνύμοις διαφορᾶς, Περὶ τῶν ψευδῶς πεπιστευμένων, Περὶ τω̂ν παρ’ ̓Αλεξανδρευ̂σι παροιμιτῶν, Περὶ θεῶν βιβλία ρʹ, καὶ ἄλλα σύμμικτα.

    Seleucus: Of Alexandria. Grammarian. He was nicknamed ‘Homeric’. He was a sophist in Rome. He wrote exegetical works on pretty well every poet; [and also] On Differences between Synonyms; On Things Believed Falsely; On Proverbs of the Alexandrians; On Gods (100 books); and assorted other works.

    Is this ἦλα (< *ālo-?) a local Greek form borrowed from the same substrate/areal source as the Iranian word?

    The Kurdish Wiktionary offers (without citing any reference) a proposal connecting this Iranian family (Persian ālū, Kurmanji dialectal forms variously hilû with initial /ħ/, hêrûg with /h/, Sorani هه‌ڵووچه‌ hełûče, هه‌ڵووجه‌ hełûǰe, etc.) with the Sumerian word ḫalub, a kind of tree. This proposal looks like a mere Kling-Klang-Etymologie. But note there is also Persian آلبالو ālbālū ‘sour cherry’.

    (As for the Sumerian ḫalub (whatever it was) its wood was used for finer furniture and considered by Inanna to be suitable for her throne. Its fruit or seed appears to have been more or less a delicacy. All sorts of proposals have been offered for the meaning of ḫalub: carob, an oak bearing edible acorns, mahaleb cherry… For instance, ḫalub seeds or fruits are listed among tempting foodstuffs in the Sumerian literary composition ‘Enlil and Sud’. I hope you can see the Sumerian text with ḫa-lu-úb on Google Books, here, p. 37 in Alhena Gadotti (2014) Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld and the Sumerian Gilgamesh Cycle. An English translation here, with ḫalub mentioned in lines 18–23. But ‘plum’ in general in Sumerian is said to be šennur, Akkadian šallūru.)

  45. How could ‘plum’ and ‘elephant foot yam’ possibly be semantically related?

  46. A friend asked me today why “Iraq” and “Iran” are similar.
    I was astonished because… I never thought about it.

    “You mean, is it accidental?” “Yes” “I have no idea!!!”.

  47. The names of Iraq and Iran are similar, for the same reason that the shapes of Kosovo and Montenegro are similar.

  48. @ Xerîb : ἦλα might be be related to modern Bulgarian слива (the fruit, not the verb). Edit: It seems they are both a fruit and a verb in both languages.

  49. @ Stu Clayton :

    Which Indian restaurant is that in Cologne?

  50. (Pecking on my phone, in a waiting room.) Can’t check anything right now, but is ὕλη strangely relevant? Good Aristotelian Greek for “matter” with primary meaning “wood”. Heh, Latin “silva” is cognate – compare слива, but why?

  51. It’s probably nothing, but fun none the less.

  52. @Noetica I’m impressed: three different alphabets whilst ‘pecking on my phone’ — including a tricky diacritic.

    Clearchus the Peripatetic reincarnate.

  53. Stu Clayton says


    Sweet India on Lenauplatz. The items on the website menu do not list Maggi among the ingredients, I find. Only the printed ones do in the restaurant.

  54. Maggi is Swiss and is pronounced [ˈmaddʒi], named after its Swiss founder of Italian descent! I won’t stand for the erasure of Swiss culinary heritage and the [ˈmaɡi] nonsense from the Germans!

    I jest, but apparently Maggi had to fight misperceptions that is was a German company during and after the First World War in France, so it’s something that’s been going on forever.

  55. @ Stu Clayton :
    I think I must have been there when I briefly resided in Ehrenfeld, but I can’t recall. I do remember eating good curry in Cologne, though. It included pineapple, by the way.

  56. @Y, one can never exclude analogy.

    I don’t know the history of these specific spellings in European languages and of the adoption of Iraq and Iran as the official names of the countries. And then analogy could happen long ago in languages of the region and the two can be etymologically related.العراق#Arabic

  57. @ drasvi :

    In the Western world, Persia (or one of its cognates) was historically the common name used for Iran. On the Nowruz of 1935, Reza Shah officially asked foreign delegates to use the Persian term Iran (meaning the land of Aryans in Persian), the endonym of the country, in formal correspondence. Subsequently, the common adjective for citizens of Iran changed from Persian to Iranian. In 1959, the government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Reza Shah’s son, announced that both “Persia” and “Iran” can be used interchangeably, in formal correspondence. However, the issue is still debated among Iranians.

  58. The initial consonant of Iran has always been /ʔ/. The proposed etymologies of Iraq are varied (per WP and WAry), but only one (ʕirāq ‘coast, coastal region’) has the pharyngeal. I don’t think ʔ and ʕ are confused for each other, willy-nilly, in languages that have both.

  59. дело ясное, что дело тёмное

    [the] matter [is] clear that [the] matter [is] obscure…

  60. “тёмное” related to Bulgarian “тъмно” as in “dark”? Russian cognates to Bulgarian words always seem so metaphorical. I guess it’s because they’re high-register.

    EDIT: I’ve had a lot of Russian-speakers tell me Bulgarian sounds like Church-language to them.

  61. There are many high-register Church Slavic words in Russian, but темно isn’t one of them. It’s both the regular cognate of Bulgarian тьмно and the usual word for “dark”. An example for a Church Slavicism in this semantic field would be мрачно.

  62. Stu Clayton says

    one can never exclude analogy

    The reason for that, by analogy, is that analogy can always be invoked. Aka it’s a free country.

  63. John Cowan says

    [the] matter [is] clear that [the] matter [is] obscure…

    “The situation is clearly very confused.”


    Here is Ivan Derzhanski’s summary of what happens to Old Church Slavonic (aka Old Bulgarian) words in Russian:

    (1) Bg and Ru differ in register:
    (a) Ru is a substandard word and Bg the standard one,
    (b) Ru is the neutral word and Bg is elevated (literary);
    (2) Bg and Ru differ in meaning, and then usually Bg has the more abstract, metaphorical etc. sense.

    Examples (first the regular Ru word, then the cognate borrowed from OBg/ChSl, which is also the only word in current Bulgarian):

    (1a) надёжа ‘hope’ (regional), надёжда ‘id.’ (standard);
    (1b) город ‘town, city’ (neutral), град ‘id.’ (literary);
    (2) горожанин ‘city-dweller’, гражданин ‘citizen’;
    (2) голова ‘head (of body)’,глава ‘head (of family, of state); chapter’.

    Later developments (which I posted last week). Note that they fall into the same patterns: different in register (nonstandard vs. standard, neutral vs. literary) or different in meaning.

  64. надёжда

    Nope, надежда. No ё in CS words.

  65. John Cowan says

    Whoops, copy and paste disease. Ivan had it right, but in Latin-1: I screwed up the reverse transliteration.

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