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.

  66. in Denmark karry is the spice mix and the sauce

    In Finland by itself just the spice mix, and after I learned fairly early on it is in fact a mix, that its characteristic yellowness is instead due to kurkuma, and encountered even some mixes without it (!), the entire word seemed to become kind of superfluous. (The fleetingly met turmeric-less “curry powders” have since then been properly internationalized to be called instead indeed garam masala etc.)

    Incidentally back in those days I also used to wonder if turmeric is some kind of a weird dissimilated and metathesized member of the kurkum- bundle, via something like *turkum > *turmuk > *turmurk?

    A bit later I encountered in hobby circles some Brits who were keen to talk about “curries” plural and what this referred to also seemed remarkably vague, it seemed to include approximately everything that is a stew or has a sauce with a flavor, just about up to bangers-and-mash variants.

  67. A great archaeology paper on the early centuries of curry, its ingredients, and its grinding techniques, just appeared in Science Advances

    The paper itself focuses on the 2,000 years old side of Oc Eo in Mekong Delta, once a sea port of the Funnan state, a South-East Asia polity with South Asian influences and population flows well attested by archaeology and ancient DNA studies. The study demonstrates sudden appearance of raised grinding plates and mortars of South Asian type and stone origin, and goes on to identify microparticles of turmeric, ginger, fingerroot, sand ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon still stuck to the grinding surfaces. These grinding techniques have already been attested in South Asia for over 500 years prior, and continued well into XIX c.

  68. Wow, that’s amazing (though not surprising)!

  69. Very interesting! But I am surprised that the Óc Eo grinding surfaces yielded no evidence for species of Piper (such as P. chava, P. longum, P. nigrum, P. retrofractum, etc.) still in use today despite the advent of chillies, and also no evidence for the leaves or zest of Citrus hystrix. Or for lemongrass.

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

    To play devil’s advocate — consider the shape tuber of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, as seen for example here and here. Although I don’t believe this particular account of the origin of Sanskrit āluka-, there are of course other examples of this typology:

    (1) French pomme (de terre) (cf. pommes frites, seldom apples);

    (2) German Grundbirne (regional Grumbiere, Grumbeer, etc.) and its descendants (though that list lacks Turkish kumpir ‘baked potato stuffed with cheese, sweet corn, and other toppings’, a type of fast food available in every bus station food court in Turkey);

    (3) Old/Middle Polish gdula ‘pear’ but also ‘sowbread (Cyclamen)’ (whose tubers are favored by swine) and ‘tuberous pea (Lathyrus tuberosus)’ (much more widely cultivated in the past for its tubers). This appears to reflect a Slavic *kъduňa (Russian дуля), although who knows, maybe the Polish use of this word in the meanings ‘cyclamen’ and ‘tuberous pea’ was calqued on German Grundbirne, if the original use of Grundbirne was for cyclamen.

    I wonder if there are any other examples of this kind.

    There have also been attempts (see Pokorny) to connect Sanskrit āluka- to Latin ālium ‘garlic’ and alum or alus (ālum/ālus?) ‘comfrey’ (as ‘bitter plant’).

  71. “A great archaeology paper on the early centuries of curry…”

    Sounds ideal. (I mean, sounds as a beautiful addition to a thread “Curry” on LH).

    Funnan, WP:

    Funan is known in the modern languages of the region as Vnum (Old Khmer: វ្នំ), Nokor Phnom (Khmer: នគរភ្នំ, Nôkôr Phnum [nɔkɔː pʰnum], lit. ’Mountain Kingdom’), Fūnān (Thai: ฟูนาน), and Phù Nam (Vietnamese). However, the name Funan is not found in any texts of local origin from the period, and it is not known what name the people of Funan gave to their polity. Some scholars argued that ancient Chinese scholars transcribed the word Funan from a word related to the Khmer word bnaṃ or vnaṃ (modern: phnoṃ, meaning “mountain”). Others, however, thought that Funan may not be a transcription at all, but rather it meant what it says in Chinese. The first inscription in the Khmer language is dated shortly after the fall of Funan.

  72. Incidentally back in those days I also used to wonder if turmeric is some kind of a weird dissimilated and metathesized member of the kurkum- bundle, via something like *turkum > *turmuk > *turmurk?

    Russain has a strange doublet tmin and kmin for caraway and cumin…. Wiktionary suggests OHG kumîn “caraway” as the source of the former.

    I did not even know the latter word, but it seems to be the Russian name of the genus Cuminum (“not to be confused with tmin“:-)). But km- totally looks like former *kъm- < *kum-

    "Cuminum cyminum" too is an odd name, I mean u~y:-) But I only know its Uzbek name, zira (and as far as I know most Russians too. It is an important ingredient of pilaf (which I personally never use, but it is important:-))).

    P.S. Wiktionary also mentions old Russian Greek borrowings кϋминъ, кименъ (I suppose in the sense “cumin”?). WP adds зэра, кумин, римский (волошский) тмин, кмин тминовый, каммун – I see them all for the first time. The etymology of “cumin” itself in has a strange addition: “Possibly related to caraway”.

  73. Is the Russian borrowing зира́ or зи́ра?

  74. LH, I was not sure myself, until I decided that I’m personally more comfortable with зира́.

    It isn’t very popular here, it’s just an ingredient in pilaf which (alongside with carrots) gives it colour.

    I guess the “proper” stress must be the same as in your Central Asian language of choice (I suppose zirá for both Tajik and Uzbek), because for a Russian it is just “a Central Asian spice”.

    If any communities of Russian speakers who cook pilaf have agreed on some pronunciation, I have no idea what it is. Wikipedia has зи́ра́, Wiktionary зи́ра, but this can simply be an foreignising pronunciation/unsuccessful attempt to guess. Russian Wiktionary’s reference is Новые слова и значения. Словарь-справочник по материалам прессы и литературы 80-х годов / Под ред. Е. А. Левашова. — СПб. : Дмитрий Буланин, 1997. (“New Words and Meanings”, 1997) which suggests that the word could enter Russian very recently.

    Speaking of colour, in markets Central Asian sellers of dried fruit often also sell a couple of varieties of rice “for pilaf”, one of them white and the other is coloured and called девзира – now large companies are selling it too.

  75. Dmitry Pruss says

    зира́ and even зра́

    I am also surprised by the absence of Piper spp. peppers. But then they had only about 700 microparticles, and most of them came from only a few stones

  76. зра́!?
    I wonder where this one could come from…

    (by the way, when did you learn the word?)

  77. Dmitry Pruss says

    probably in the 1980s. A simple Google search shows that it’s a common synonym.

  78. Yes, it does.
    But I’m surprised by this syllable structure, CCV.

  79. January First-of-May says

    зира́ and even зра́

    Same. My father grew up in Tashkent, so perhaps it’s an Uzbek-influenced pronunciation in my case.

    Incidentally, I concur with drasvi on not recalling having ever heard of кмин before.

  80. But I’m surprised by this syllable structure, CCV.

    А зря.

  81. John Cowan says

    French pomme (de terre)

    This reminds me of when I was in the Netherlands and a friend was talking about a granaatappel, which he glossed as ‘a fruit you don’t eat, it’s red’ and I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about until he finally said “You eat the seeds”. Then I said “Oh, a pomegranate!” and he looked at me like “Well, of course.” Then I felt stupid.

  82. “same”

    @J1M, I’m not sure of you mean (a) stress (b) CCV (c) using both zra (CCV) and zira (CVCV). I assume you mean (c).

    I know very little about Uzbek phonology, but I just did not know there are any dialects in the region that turn CVCV to CCV, Persian does not even tolerate CCV. Is it such a CVCV in Uzbek that it turns into Russian CCV for whatever reason (if zra was borrowed elsewhere, from Kyrgyzstan to Caucasus…)? I can imagine several scenarios.

    E.g. Uzbek Structural Grammar by Sjoberg (approximate year of publication can be guessed fropm “structural”:) link) says some realisations of /i/ and /u/ can be devoiced between voiceless consonants.
    And a short Descriptive Phonetics of Uzbek by Glynis MacMillan says /r/ can be devoiced but does not specify the condition.

    But maybe someone here simply knows the answer…

  83. @LH, or бля) well, subjectively brevno is easy (maybe CVCVCVCVCV is less so) but I still find CVCV easier than зря/бля. The latter often appears in isolation, but it is an expletive (and expletives love to be difficult and may contain even кы).

    I also wonder if the extra difficulty I perceive here has to do with its openness (cf. vzbryk or brev-no). E.g. more explosive start can be somehow compenstated by abrupt closure and combines less well with gradual decrease in power and volume.

    Anyway: these words are not “difficult”, it is just that they are not preferable to CVCV.

  84. “You eat the seeds”. Then I said “Oh, a pomegranate!”

    You don’t eat the seeds, normally. You eat the juicy red sarcotesta, often catachrestically referred to as the aril (see Hat’s post concerning mace in 2020), and spit the seeds out.

  85. Potatoes aren’t roots, cactus leaves aren’t leaves, strawberries aren’t berries (and their seeds are not seeds). Nothing is as it seems.

  86. Nothing is as it seems, at least most of the time. Everything apart from nothing is illusory and deceptive.

  87. David Marjanović says

    Or at least quantum.

  88. As I understand now, zira, jira etc. is a name used in great Persia for fruit of umbelliferae which recembles caraway. But the type species may vary, so it is unclear who exactly is “zira”, and who is “black”, “white”, “yellow zira”.

    It’s a mess, and botanical classification is also a mess:(((

    Uzbek WP begins with “Zira (Bunium persicum)” and says it grows around Samarkand. Tajik WP says:

    Зира — а) (лот. Cyminum cuminum), (русӣ: кмин тминовый, кмин, кумин, римский тмин), зира, зэра, б) (лот. Bunium persicum), (русӣ: клубнетмин персидский, буниум персидский, чёрный кумин) ки инчунин бо номҳои зираи форсӣ, зиркаҳ ва лӯндакзира низ мешиносанд.

    PS, it is convenient that “name” is nâm.
    I suppose зираи форсӣ, зиркаҳ ва лӯндакзира are local names of [what genus it is in now] persicum

  89. PlasticPaddy says

    That is interesting that you find blja difficult (but not blju?). In Irish I would say blea (or bleá as in bleán or Bleá Cliath) is not noteworthy or unusual, but bliú would be unusual (iú appears in common words like inniú and siúcra, but I can’t think of common examples with a liquid before the i apart from aililiú).

  90. @PP, well, no.

    I just think that CVCV appears easier than CCV in isolation (and thus Russian would not turn CVCV into CCV), but it does not mean that CCV is “difficult”. It only means there is a perceptible difference.

    Also it is difficult to speak of blja and dva (common Russian words).*

    I can say gorazd vzbzdnut’: such clusters already make us want to joke about them, but it is not a tongue twister or something.
    * I remembered how my friend used dva in the first Russian phrase I ever heard from her, and she said something like dva’ – not a glottal stop maybe, but an abrupt closure of vocal tract instead of relaxing it. This was quite striking. But this must have to do with her native phonology.

    P.S. actually blju means nothing (but English blue) in Russian, and still it seems “easy” to me.

  91. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry, I just don’t make that analysis, especially for speech, where I would notice instead unusual or disallowed sequences (e.g., consonant digraphs or clusters). Probably I am more aware of these when I know a language where these constraints are missing (like vr not being a constraint in Russian or French).

  92. @PP, everyone makes it for long consonant clusters: people joke about them.

    I’m confident that CCV is “weird” (because I occasionaly learn such words and think “weird”) but I am less confident that they take more effort to pronounce than CVCV and CCVC.

    Another such word is хна “henna”. Where is the vowel?

  93. 1878, encyclopedia: “Хна (Impatiens balsamina), хена, азіатское растеніе изъ сем. бальзаминовыхъ. Насчитываютъ 5 видовъ этого растенія: 1) Хна-и-кашкары, 2) Хна-и-хасакъ, 3) Хна-и-шалдаръ, 4) Хна-и-аушанъ, 5) Хна-и-лушти (т.е. афганскiй).”

    So hna-i-kašk[q?]arı (but hna-i-lušti) in ezafe.

  94. Surprisingly, Pokhlyobkin’s “Всё о пряностях” (“everything about spices”) has a lot about curry.
    pages 147-151.
    The table on p. 150 is rather impressive.

    Во всех этих стандартизированных рецептах пятым обязательным компонентом выступает кмин для европейских или ажгон (зира) для азиатских видов карри, поскольку эти пряности применяются в большинстве классических составов карри в странах Среднего Востока и Индии. Таким образом, для всех составов карри следует считать обязательным пять компонентов — кориандр, куркуму, фенугрек, красный перец и кмин[1] (или ажгон)
    He treats cumin as a European substitute for local ajwain/zira, which is great, but as I understand, Iranian and Uzbek “zira” and “ajwain” are at least three different plants (and I have no idea what they call jira in India – I don’t believe Wiktionary anymore. Not ajwain I suppose, for ajwain is an Indian word itself):-(

  95. I was going to say I was unfamiliar with the word “ajwain,” but (having learned my lesson over the years) I did a site search and found that Stu had mentioned it here in 2010. But of course I’d long ago forgotten it, so thanks for reminding me!

  96. And that Wiktionary page derives it from Hindi अजवाइन (ajvāin); at that page we find:


    Inherited from Sanskrit यवानी (yavānī́). Cognate to Nepali ज्वानो (jvāno), Punjabi ਜਮਾਇਣ (jamāiṇa), ਜਵੈਣ (javaiṇ), Bengali জোয়ান (jōẇan).

    यवानी (yavānī́) is a red link (no entry); could it be related to यवन (yavan) ‘foreigner; Greek; Arab; European’? Also, ajvāin is clearly not directly from yavānī́ — they’ve left out some intermediate steps.

  97. John Cowan says

    यवन (yavan) ‘foreigner; Greek; Arab; European’?

    No, that’s from Ionian (the Greeks the Persians knew best).

  98. I know that; I’m asking if yavānī́ is derived from that word.

  99. Turner has a bit more:
    10439 yavānī́ f. ‘a kind of bad barley’ Pāṇ.com., ‘Ptychotis ajowan’ Suśr., °nikā- f. Car., yamānī-, °nikā- f. Suśr. [Cf. ajamōda-]
    Phal. yohoṇī́, yohaṇī́ ‘oats’ NOPhal 51 with (?); S. jāṇī f. ‘Ligusticum ajowan and its seed’, P. javā̆iṇ, jamāiṇ, ajvāiṇ f.; Ku. jwāṇ ‘dill seed (remedy for stomach-ache)’; N. juwānu ‘L. ajowan’, A. zâni, āzani (zâniyā ‘smelling of this’), B. joyān, °ni, jamāni ‘carroway (Ptychotis ajowan)’; Or. juāṇī ‘carroway (Carum copticum ajowan)’, juāṇiā ‘a cornfield weed’; Bi. jawāin, ajwāin ‘Ligusticum or Ptychotis ajowan’; H. jwāin, jawānī, ajwāin, ajwān f. ‘P. ajowan’ (→ M. aj̈vān m.).

    The Sanscrit sources are medical texts (Suśruta, Caraka) and commentaries on Panini. That and the fact that there is also a variant with -m- make it likely, in my very humble and non-Indologist opinion, that yavānī́ is not actually from Sanscrit, but a Sanscritisation of a term from some spoken language (Indo-Aryan or other), and not linked to the ethnonym for Greeks.

  100. John Cowan says

    There is also the ā rather than a.

  101. Often lengthened in derivation.

  102. WP:
    Caraway, also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumin (Carum carvi)
    It was supposed to be popular in north Europe, how it became “meridian” and “Persian”?

    And that’s when Persian has zira-ye rumi for caraway:-/

  103. UPD:
    A nice article. And it too mentions zīra-ye rūmī.

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

    Kommen in Danish is caraway, and spidskommen is cumin. I guess curry powder always had cumin in it, but as a separate spice it didn’t really appear on shelves before Asian food became popular around 2000 or so.

  105. And what quality does “spids” describe?

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

    That is a very good question. It’s spelled (and pronounced) like the adjective spids which means “pointy”, and I think most people assume that’s what it is. In Swedish it’s spiskumin with a long i, however, like the word for “cooking range”, so it’s probably borrowed from somewhere and eggcorned differently in each language. ODS adduces G Speisekümmel and older Danish spisekommen, so the Swedes seem to be closer to the origins there. (G speisen = ‘eat’, but why that should distinguish it from other cumins I don’t know). As a noun, Da spise ~ ‘food’.

    (TIL that cumin and caraway are actually related and the seeds look almost identical. We only get cumin ground, though, while whole caraway seeds are used in cheese and on bread, so I never knew why they share a name. Reportedly some slavic languages use designations like Roman or spice [no relation, but same idea] caraway for cumin, so Scandinavia is not all alone).

  107. Naturally, caraway seeds aren’t seeds (they are fruit.)

  108. David Marjanović says


    Interesting, never heard of that. Kümmel “caraway”, Kreuzkümmel “cumin”, Schwarzkümmel “the pitch-black yummy stuff on Turkish bread”.

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

    That headword in ODS was written in 1943.The black stuff is Nigella sativa seeds, just called nigellafrø here. WP.da claims the word sortkommen exists. Doubt.

  110. The confusion is real. I have an Iranian colleague who made us some Komach-e Sehen. They said that until it was pointed out that caraway and cumin are different in American kitchens (rye bread vs Tex-Mex), they had just assumed that zira was ‘cumin’. Likewise, here is a travelogue that claims that there’s cumin in Kerman pastry.

  111. PlasticPaddy says

    Spidskommen/spiskumin looks to me more like ex Old French “espice cumin”, but I have not seen the latter in the wild…

  112. Кимион for cumin and ким for caraway in Bulgarian. In German they were similarly close IIRC.

  113. Keith Ivey says

    Caraway and cumin seeds do look similar, but I don’t understand why nigella/kalonji/charnushka would be connected with them.

  114. I’ve encountered both black cumin and black sesame for nigella in Bulgarian (usually the former), but it’s rare while caraway and cumin are both very common. In spice shops it tends to be nigella. Disambiguation, I guess as there is black sesame, I think.

  115. “The confusion is real. I have an Iranian colleague who made us some Komach-e Sehen.

    Likewise, here is a travelogue that claims that there’s cumin in Kerman pastry.”

    Aha, and then the question is what it is that is used in Kerman:)

    Can be neither Carum carvi, not Cuminum cyminum. It seems many ziras/caraways used in the Middle East were classified as Bunium, now as Elwendia (and before that many things were placed in the genus Carum. Ajwain was Carum copticum, Ammi copticum, now it is Trachyspermum ammi). Also caraway and cumin are used for different dishes, so I’m not confident that they use the same zira with meat and in pastry in Kerman.

    Thus far the ONLY text that I have seen that clarifies the situation is the article in Encyclopedia Iranica that I linked above.

    Others simply introduce a new name for zira – either already used for other species or not. E.g. some Russian cooking encyclopedia informs you that zira is “Indian caraway” (which is also a name for ajwain!) and that there are four varieties of it: Persian, Kermani, Syrian and Nabatean. Of these I’m familiar with the former two, but it’s a list from Avicenna!

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

    @Keith, me neither. In fact the traditional stuff to put on bread here in Denmark is poppy seeds, usually the black ones. We call them birkes, reportedly because Jewish households would buy loaves with poppy seeds and bless them with berakot (singular birkat?) at the beginning of the sabbath and that got garbled on the non-Jewish side. (I think Challah is the word used for such loaves in English, and don’t ask me why that wasn’t the case here).

    But no one that I know of is trying to call Nigella seeds birkes either, even though they look much more like black poppy seeds (just a bit smaller) than like caraway “seeds”, and both give a “warm” taste nuance to the bread.

  117. I think it’s בִּרְכַּת, Ashkenazi birkes, Tiberian birkaṯ, the construct case (i.e. ‘blessing of’) of the singular בְּרָכָה, Ashkenazi brokhe, Tiberian bǝrāḵâ ‘blessing’, of which the plural is בְּרָכוֹת brokhes / bǝrāḵôṯ.

    The Danish birkes is presumably a chopped off version of בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן birkes hamozn / birkaṯ hammāzôn, ‘blessing of the food’.

    (If I screwed up the Ashkenazi/Yiddish pronunciation, I hope r. will correct me.)

  118. The comforting fact is that when I google for “Persian cumin”, one of the first books is a cookbook by a woman named Nigella Lawson.

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

    Just-so story: Jewish families would ask for birkes-brød at the baker’s so that’s what they would be sold as to everybody. (City households, especially on upper floors, did not have ovens so baker shops were much in demand. You would even send your Christmas goose off to the baker’s for roasting. Also I have no idea what pronunciation Jewish Danes use/used, it simply never came up).

    If there was ever a tradition of only producing poppy-seed loaves on the night of the Sabbath (or Friday morning, since bakers probably closed around noon), it’s lost from living memory (unlike some other baked goods for Carneval and Great Prayer Day [never forget!]).

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

    @drasvi, indeed Ms Lawson provides cognitive dissonance to the seeds, my brain is like “who’d name a girl after little black dots, I must be remembering one of them wrong!” But then, people name their kids after the most astonishing things.

    (It is of course not possible to rule out on first principles that the species was named for a girl. But Nigella has a good Latin pedigree. Ms Lawson might also be named directly from the Latin [{little} blackish one], of course, and not for the seeds).

  121. Nigella the person is probably the feminine of Nigel.

  122. birkes

    Curiously, one of the many (many!) names for the seed of Nigella sativa in Arabic is حبة البركة ḥabbat al-baraka ‘seed of the blessing’, as in the main entry for N. sativa in the Arabic Wikipedia here.

    I thought this was simply because of several hadiths referring to nigella, there called شونيز šūnīz and الحبة السوداء al-ḥabba al-sawdāʾ ‘black seed’. (See Sunan Ibn Majah 3447–3449 here.) But perhaps there more history here than I know…

    الله أعلم Allahu ʾaʿlam.

  123. Trond Engen says

    Lars M.: Just-so story: Jewish families would ask for birkes-brød at the baker’s so that’s what they would be sold as to everybody.

    Heh. I knew Norw. briks was mangled from Danish, pressed into a mold used for borrowings from English. You’ll even see it written <bricks> on chalked menu boards. But I thought birke was a modern Danish shortening of some psomonym starting in birke(n)-, presumably just another German placename, and had been given a plural with -s, since Danish seems to be keen on doing that on anything vaguely foreign.

  124. Nigella the person is probably the feminine of Nigel.

    A 2002 interview:

    Did Nigel and Nigella have fierce political rows? “No,” she says. “I didn’t get interested in politics until I’d left home. Also I don’t row, and my father doesn’t really talk about politics.” Didn’t she resent him for giving her his name? Actually, she says, it was her grandmother’s idea. “There is a flower called Nigella.” It didn’t bother her anyway because “my family called me La-La”.

    I’m guessing it was her paternal grandmother. Interesting that she mentions the flower rather than the spice; perhaps granny wasn’t foodie.

  125. Indeed, when you google for nigella you obtain flowers. If photographs that illustrate N. sativa in WP are white and have 5 petals (even the image of N. damascena used in the article about the genus in Russian has 5 petals and is only moderately blue, compared to other flowers in the background) the images in Google images have multiple petals and are blue.

    “Easy-to-grow cottage garden annuals, they are used to bolster borders in early summer and as a cut flower. Scatter seed in drifts through a border to create an ethereal effect, the flowers appearing to float among their filigree foliage – hence the romantic name ‘love-in-a-mist’.”
    …says the first image.
    “Nigella seed pods can be dried for use in arrangements. Cut the seed pods shortly after the petals drop and before the pods mature and split. Gather stems into loose bundles and hang them upside down out of direct sun to dry.”
    … says the second.

    PS what I find disturbing is that while I googled for “nigella” several times over this couple of days, I simply ignored the images!

  126. It’s curious to me that cumin and caraway have similar names both in Bulgarian and German — they taste nothing alike. Echter Kümmel / Kreuzkümmel / ким / кимион — that’s what is written on the packages in Austria at least.

  127. David Marjanović says

    Caraway was simply the most similar thing that was known, I guess.

  128. i love the birkes-brød < birkes hamozn etymology! and i'm slightly skeptical (mostly about "birkes-brød" as a jewish name for one specific kind of bread), or maybe better: i'm wondering what other route resulted in a term close enough for a good pun to land there. but my skepticism would probably evaporate if poppyseed is a recent(ish) replacement for nigella seeds, which (at least currently) alternate with caraway seeds in/on jewish rye breads (and i assume other eastern european ryes), since then i could imagine it as related to a cognate of "ḥabbat al-baraka".

    Xerîb's comment (combined with the hiphop thread) also reminded me that as "black seed", nigella is advertised all over my neighborhood – "black seed oil" and soaps made from it have been significant in black muslim and wider black cultural nationalist circles as cottage industries and naturopathic remedies (on the latter, here is a recent lit review that i haven’t read yet).

  129. ktschwarz says

    The cumin/caraway nexus has also been discussed here under MULTILINGUAL SPICES (2004/2020), as well as a digression in 2012 that again linked to Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages; the possible etymology of cumin from Sumerian came up last year.

    (In a parallel universe, Language Hat is a forum with permanent topics including SPICES and BERRIES.)

  130. I bought a jar of nigella paste, this stuff, a few years ago. It’s an acquired taste, which I still haven’t acquired.

  131. It’s great to sprinkle on hummus or dal, and it is indeed an acquired taste. I buy it raw and whole, and briefly toast it before adding it. It tends to overpower other flavours, though, so you have to use it sparingly.

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

    @rozele, I’m suggesting that birkes-brød was a talking-to-the-gentiles term. I don’t know any early-19th century Jewish Danes to talk to, so what it was called inside the community I have no idea.

    However, poppy seed is a (yeast-leavened) wheat bread thing here. Real Danish rye bread is at least two thirds rye and needs real sourdough to rise just a little. (And the carbon dioxide is trapped by hardened sugars and starch converted by Maillard reactions under low heat and long baking times, not by gluten strands). The eastern European rye breads I’ve seen described were at most 1/3 rye and clearly dependent on gluten to rise.

    In other news, I saw a perfect Danish neologism for “othering” or “outgrouping” in the paper today: udgrænsning. At least I’m not aware of any Swedish words it can be a calque of. (Swedish being the most popular source of political buzzwords these days).

  133. Borodinsky is 80% rye flour and 5% rye malt, gurgles the source of all knowlege (English)…

    PS. A Latvian site says (in Russian, about Latvian bread), that some sorts of bread that came “from the West” also contain wheat flour, but its share ideally “must be minimal” – and blame transnational “corporations” for spoling our rye bread with rotten Capitalist wheat.

    PPS horrible.

  134. ktschwarz says

    Noetica: pomegranate … You eat the juicy red sarcotesta … and spit the seeds out.

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of spitting the seeds out. I don’t, and I don’t see the need; the Pomegranate Council says spit them or don’t, “it’s your choice”. What if you find the juicy red things sprinkled in a salad with spinach and goat cheese, or scattered over pomegranate soup, do you still spit the seeds out?

  135. I never spit out pomegranate seeds.

  136. Dmitry Pruss says

    Apropos Borodinsky bread (malted rye topped with coriander, sometimes also sweetened with molasses or plain sugar) and other rye breads – my pet peeve is that there is no real rye bread anymore, not even in Russia. The real “black” bread couldn’t be raised with yeast. Only sourdough starter works with it, and we enjoyed industrial quantities of sourdough rye bread in my childhood days. But it’s gone extinct.
    If one malts or otherwise sweetens rye dough, then the yeast can handle it. Without coriander seed, it would have been called заварной хлеб, because malting is done by heating, literally “boiling” the dough prior to baking. In France, they also handle special types of wheat dough like this, for the sticky-bubbly texture effect.
    Western (and nowadays Russian) unmalted rye bread is at least 40% wheat, usually 50% wheat. Yeast can handle such a mixture. But it’s nothing like what I remember from my childhood years.
    And since we are talking caraway seeds … ~50% rye w/caraway seed and molasses was called Riga bread in Moscow. I would suspect that the name was a Stalin-era innovation when “foreign” foods had to be renamed after Soviet locations. But I don’t know for sure.
    Challah was renamed too, but pretty much everyone still called a challah.

  137. John Cowan says

    what I find disturbing is that while I googled for “nigella” several times over this couple of days, I simply ignored the images!

    Erunda. Being able to ignore images is a very necessary skill on the ad-ridden commercial Internet, and if your ad detectors are set a bit too high, no big deal.

  138. U.S. “deli-style” rye bread is more like 10-15% rye: rye-flavored white bread. The foo-foo artisanal bakeries, if they have rye bread at all, sell coarse 100% pumpernickel kinda stuff, which is fine, but a different animal.

    Baking your own sourdough is easy, especially if you make it a routine.

  139. kt:

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of spitting the seeds out. I don’t, and I don’t see the need; the Pomegranate Council says spit them or don’t, “it’s your choice”.

    Well! You’re asking us to take seriously a source that calls the sarcostesta “aril”, and conflates that integument with what it envelops? Tsk. With my bold:

    You see those glistening red jewels inside? They’re called arils, and they’re full of delicious, nutritious sweet-tart juice surrounding a small white crunchy seed. You can eat the whole arils including the fiber-rich seeds, or spit out the seeds if you prefer- it’s your choice! The rind and the white membranes surrounding the arils are bitter and we don’t suggest eating them- although some say even that part of the pomegranate has medicinal value!

    Other sources warn that the seeds can cause “intestinal blockage”. I think we should not be giving dietary advice at the Hattery, unless it be to take the more prudent course. That said, I reveal to the world that I regularly eat entire slices of lemon, peel and all.

    What if you find the juicy red things sprinkled in a salad with spinach and goat cheese, or scattered over pomegranate soup, do you still spit the seeds out?

    The answer must depend on empirical investigation. I’ll report here, if the opportunity for such an experiment arises.

  140. You slice it??

  141. You don’t???

  142. Swallow them whole, like a python, then wash them down with a melon.

  143. John Cowan says

    Scrape the inside of the peel with my teeth, like an artichoke leaf.

  144. suggesting that birkes-brød was a talking-to-the-gentiles term

    yeah, that’s exactly the part i’m skeptical about! i don’t see why someone would use an abbreviated version of a purely culturally specific term (especially one that’s already pretty indirect, being not at all specific to a type of bread, or even to bread as a category) to someone outside the community. that’s not a way to be understood! it would make more sense to me as a “misheard by gentiles” term – but i can’t think of any kind of context where the term (as opposed to the ritual practice it names) would be attached to the specific item. which leaves me, explanation-wise, with either a practical gloss as “jews-bread” (with “birkes” just a generic jewish-connoting word) or some kind of multilingual pun on another term for the bread. and i don’t know enough to demonstrate either.

  145. Correcting myself: since the bread in question was poppy-coated challah, the blessing in question is not the general blessing of the food, but the blessing of the Sabbath, which would be birkes hashabes.

    My understanding is that the Denmark Jewish community started off with immigrants from Germany centuries ago, and was supplemented with a large wave of immigration from Eastern Europe between the pogroms and WW2. Did the older community speak Yiddish? When did the word birkes enter Danish?

  146. John Cowan says

    Essentially all the Jews in Denmark until the Russian Revolution were either Schutzjude or their descendants (emancipation came after 1814). The community was mixed Ashkenazic-Sephardic, so Danish would have been the common language. There was also a historically high rate of intermarriage with Danes. But of course there would be the expected loanwords in the Jewish variety of Danish. (I remember reading that חֵן khen ‘grace’ is found in every Jewish variety; of course whoever said that probably didn’t have information on all varieties.)

  147. and “ashkenazic” probably actually meaning “from ashkenaz” – i.e. from the german-speaking lands west of the elbe, and speaking “western yiddish” (i’d prefer a different name to make the depth of distance from “eastern yiddish” clear, but so it goes) as their vernacular.

    interesting (if universal, or notably widespread) about חֵן – i wonder about its semantic spread, since in [eastern] yiddish kheyn leans more towards english “charm”.

  148. …as in the rhyme of the second line of bei mir bistu shein (q.v.)

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

    I don’t know much about the history of Jewish Danes; ODS has relatively late (1900s [decade]) attestations of birkes/berkes itself, but the supplement has an antedating from 1846: det saakaldte “Berches”-Brød. But with “so-called” and scare quotes it looks like it was new at the time. (But it’s from a newspaper on Bornholm, and maybe there were very few Jewish people there at the time so the quote may be about exotic Copenhagen–there is no context given).

  150. Is it certain that the word for poppy seed was back-formed from the word for poppyseed bread?

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

    @Y, it’s what the etymological dictionary says, and the early attestations (also a bit later in indirect speech in fiction) talk of berkes-brød (construing as a count noun) or just et berches meaning a loaf; it is used for the poppy seeds themselves in cookbooks and product dictionaries after 1900. Also there is no other suggested etymology. I think that’s as close as you get to “certainty.” (A.k.a “it all fits, I tell you!”)

    (birkes is not a count noun now, like most words for food ingredients*; You can probably get away with asking for et birkes og et formbrød at the bakers, but that’s understood as et franskbrød med birkes.. There is also a non-sweet pastry called en tebirkes, but I assume that transfer went the other way).
    (*) We haven't started quoting ml's for eggs yet, even though you can now buy (blended and) pasteurized yolks/whites/whole eggs in little bottles if you're scared of salmonella. Or 4l canisters if you're an institutional kitchen. Æggehvider and æggeblommer are still count in recipes as well, until further notice.

  152. birkes as a name of seeds themselves sound cute (cf. Xerîb) if not more palusible….

  153. @Dmitry, for me it is slightly different: I only vaguely remember bread of 80s, and I don’t remember what it was called. I don’t even know if I tried rye bread.

    The Latvian site can be right:

    The West is much better for traditions and small businesses than the post-Soviet space.
    USSR was not good at cheese, but there were several breweres that kept brewing great beer in 90s. In 2000s they are bought and brew generic “Tuborg”, “Heineken” and so on.*

    As result from here it looks like wheat comes “from the West”.

    * I’m all for Tuborg as long as it is imported from Denmark.

  154. I remember when Heineken was imported and was actually good.

  155. Dmitry Pruss says

    I remember a mortal struggle with Heineken on the sidelines of Moscow 1980 Olympics. Our class was conscripted to work as room maids in a university dorm converted into a hotel for the foreigners. Only males cuz you know. A group of older out of town KGB men provided security, like no fraternization with the guests, no smuggling in and out. I usually shopped for groceries during the lunch break and had heavy bags of veggies almost daily, it was the height of the summer canning season. The family men of the KGB kind of identified with it and gave me a lot of slack during the searches. Unsurprisingly my pals asked me to smuggle out a few Heineken cans some guests left during checkout. We proceeded to nearby bushes, and a $%%$@ warm and shaken can squirted right into my eye. With no water anywhere for like miles to wash it off. Have I been one of those gmen, I would have sworn that it was a Western plot on my life. I avoid the brand to this day.

  156. That’s a great story! (And you’re not missing anything.)

  157. “With no water anywhere for like miles to wash it off.”

    Oh, Wilderness!

  158. David Marjanović says

    In other news, I saw a perfect Danish neologism for “othering” or “outgrouping” in the paper today: udgrænsning. At least I’m not aware of any Swedish words it can be a calque of. (Swedish being the most popular source of political buzzwords these days).

    Ausgrenzung and ausgrenzen go back decades.

  159. Dmitry Pruss says

    You are too used to bottled water sold at every corner, @drasvi. It wasn’t a thing 40 years ago. One had to find a soda machine with a glass rinser to get tap.water, and those germ spreaders just weren’t there in the residential neighborhoods.

  160. David Marjanović says

    Other sources warn that the seeds can cause “intestinal blockage”.

    Yeah, if you swallow them whole like the aforementioned python. Don’t do that, then. *eyeroll*

  161. @Dmitry, I just thought the picture “two (or more) guys hiding in bushes pass two (or more) cans of warm Heineken only to have one of them squirt into the eye of one of them, with no water in bushes to wash it away” represents one more aspect of Khayam’s Wilderness (add depth to it). *

    But I rarely buy bottled water. I don’t know if I remember that aspect of Soviet life well or not, but my own habits haven’t changed much. Also I thought you were young and assumed that you could have no money, so this (wrong) solution didn’t occur to me.
    P.S. now thinking of this solution, perhaps bottled mineral water would do….

    P.P.S. * i mean, you know, wilderness is like that:-)

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

    @DM, I did briefly consider looking for it in German. Anyway, I’ll take calque from German over a loan from English any day. And it’s almost compositional.

  163. Yes, Dansk Sprognævn dates it to 1979 and derives it from German.

    (I don’t know whether it is a serious sourse: is run by people from the institute of Russian langauge, but I occasionally see errors and they apparently beleive that texts intended for ordinary language users don’t not have to be precise.

    Desuden indsamler DSN nye danske ord og har en oplysningstjeneste, der gratis besvarer spørgsmål fra offentligheden om dansk sprog og sprogbrug. – is the latter)

  164. A squirt of Heineken into my eye–
    Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

  165. Dmitry Pruss says

    Oh gosh, I would have never thought of a Hayyam verse 😀 Hats off, it was a cool association. For myself, the word Wilderness is too down to Earth. I pass by Wilderness Boundary signs almost daily, and I grew accustomed to the idea that it’s just a government-owned land where ATVs are, luckily, not allowed. But without poetic allusions…

    Russian пустыня doubles up as desert, so “lack of water” makes the allusion too perfect

  166. Yes, I wanted to write the whole line, but was not sure “Paradise” suits:-)

  167. Well, one could always quote the immortal Prutkov: “Над воплем страданья я дико смеюсь.”

  168. black cumin and black sesame
    Schwarzkümmel “the pitch-black yummy stuff on Turkish bread”.

    The cultural nexus in which Nigella sativa is designated by a term like black cumin is ancient in the Near East. Bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical lists have entries as here (late, from Nineveh), in which Sumerian gamun giggi, literally ‘black cumin’, is equated with Akkadian zibû. There is agreement that Akkadian zibû is Nigella sativa. (Unicode does not have all the superscripts needed for Sumerian determinatives, so I have left them off for simplicity’s sake.)

    Similarly, in Hittite, it appears that Cuminum cyminum (cumin) and Nigella sativa are distinguished only by color adjectives: Hittite ḫarkiš kappāniš ‘cumin(?)’ (literally ‘white cumin’, also written with the Sumerograms GAMUN.BABBAR in Hittite) on the one hand, and dankuiš kappāniš ‘nigella’ (literally, ‘black cumin’, also written with Sumerograms GAMUN.GE₆) on the other. From a list of materials for a ritual (using Hittitological notation, which always lags behind advances in Sumerology, and with certain superscripts being unavailable in Unicode):

    ŠA GIŠ.SAR.ḪI.A ḫūman BABBAR kappāni GE₆ kappāni ānkišaš NUMUN-an TĪYATI AN.TAḪ.ŠUMˢᴬᴿ ḫazzuwaniš

    of the vegetable gardens, everything: white cumin, black cumin, the seed of ānkiš, asafoetida(?), crocus(?), lettuce…

    Also note the following passage from the Hittite ritual text known, as the Ritual of Mastigga, against family dissension. (Mastigga is the name of the ‘Old Woman’, the wise woman, from Kizzuwatna (approximately, Cilicia), who performs the ritual to protect the patrons of the ritual from evil speech (‘evil tongue’).) Here is a translation of the text:

    The Old Woman makes a kneading-pan of clay and she put a little dough in it and throws (textual variant: shakes) black cumin [Hittite: kappani GE₆] in it and waves it over the two patrons of the ritual, and she speaks as follows:

    ‘Even as this clay does not go back to the riverbank,
    and the cumin does not turn white
    or become another seed
    and this dough does not go to the gods as bread,
    so may the evil tongue likewise not go to the body of
    these two ritual patrons’

    The striking phrase “Even as the (black) cumin does not turn white or become another seed”, or in Hittite kappani-ya-wa harkiēšzi natta, nu-war-at-za damai NUMUN-an natta kišari, draws upon nigella as the paragon of blackness, which can never become white or resemble another seed (i.e. regular cumin).

    Of course, Hittite kappāni- bears a distinct phonetic resemblance to Akkadian kamūnu, Sumerian gamun, Greek κύμινον, Armenian չաման čʿaman, without us being able to say anything more precise.

  169. draws upon nigella as the paragon of blackness, which can never become white or resemble another seed

    That is interesting, because in Israel ‘black sesame’, refers to black varieties of sesame, and sloppily also to nigella (properly קֶצַח IH/TH ketsakh/qeṣaḥ). They do indeed look similar in size, shape, and color.

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

    @drasvi, Dansk Sprognævn is about as serious as it gets outside academia. They are officially charged with editing the orthographical dictionary and having opinions about new words and usages, but they are often too descriptivist for the writers of letters to the editor.

    Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, on the other hand, is not(*) on the state budget and their dictionaries are even more descriptivist. Den Danske Ordbog agrees with DSN’s dictionary about udgrænse. (Back in the day they also financed Ordbog over det danske Sprog which I quote so often, and they put everything online free of charge).

    1979 — recency illusion strikes again.
    (*) EDIT: Some academic salaries are funded by the Ministry of Culture, it turns out.

  171. @Xerîb:

    certain superscripts being unavailable in Unicode

    Which ones? Characters required for standard transliteration are always eligible for consideration as Unicode characters. Drop a line to Michael Everson, preferably with pictures of books or articles in which the missing characters appear.

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