7 French Food-Related Words That Became English
When the Normans took over England in 1066, they brought their food and their language.
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This week, my guest Kara Rota from the Clever Cookstr and I are going to talk about some interesting cooking words that came from French.
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If you listened to the show last week, you’ll remember that I talked about William the Conqueror and the Norman Invasion—that in 1066 William, who spoke a version of French, conquered the English army, took over England, installed his own government, and quickly began building castles.
French became the official language of England. The poor people continued to speak English, but the upper class, and aspiring social climbers, spoke French. It was during this time that many French words entered the English language—especially words related to upper-class life such as words about government and cooking.
When my husband heard me say that cooking was part of upper-class life, he was confused. He asked, “What? Didn’t the poor people cook?” Which is a good point, but here’s how language experts describe it: They say that the animals in the field, who were being tended by the lower class, kept their Anglo-Saxon names (such as cow, pig, and deer), but once they were cooked and on the tables of the nobility, who spoke French, they took their French names (beef, pork, and venison). The serfs talked about raising cows and the French noblemen talked about eating beef.
The Clever Cookstr
Before we talk about French cooking words, give us the quick rundown of the Clever Cookstr, Kara. What are you talking about every week?
Each week we’re sharing Quick and Dirty Tips from the kitchens of the world’s best cooks. We interview emerging and established chefs and cookbook authors, as well as getting exclusive insights from bakers, farmers, grocers, and more.
That sounds great. Let’s get back to the words.
It takes time for words to enter a new language, so the Oxford English Dictionary says that even though the Normans took over in 1066, beef became an English word around 1250. When I was looking that up, it jumped out at me that the Old French pronunciation was “boef,” spelled B-O-E-F, and I remember a scene from the movie Julie and Julia all about boeuf bourguignon. Tell us about boeuf bourguignon.
Boeuf bourguignon is featured in Julie and Julia! (Its name refers to its origins Burgundy region.) The boeuf bourguignon recipe I love to use is an Anthony Bourdain version. You can use Burgundy wine, as per the title, or another comparable variety. This recipe is a great way to use cheaper, tougher cuts of beef, as the longer cooking time breaks it down into fork-tender morsels.
Another word that came into English from French around the same time as the word beef is bacon (again, a word for the cooked food that comes from a pig—pig is the Anglo-Saxon word). It came into English from Old French in the 1300s.
Savor is an interesting word. It came from Old French in the 1200s or 1300s. Perhaps the nobles had more time to savor their food than the commoners working in the field raising cows and pigs.
Liquor also came into English from Old French in the early 1200s. Mead, wine, and ale are all of Germanic origin, but liquor is from French.
And here’s one you mentioned, Kara, that came from French in the late 1300s: salad.
Lettuce and romaine are also from Old French, and I couldn’t find an Anglo-Saxon word you’d use for salad. If you know of one, please leave a comment at the end of this article.
Kara, do you have a favorite salad recipe?
Nicoise salad is one of my favorites (named after Nice in France). The combination of tuna, potatoes, eggs, green beans, and anchovies is flavorful and filling. It’s the perfect full-meal salad. (http://www.cookstr.com/recipes/salad-nicoise)
This is unrelated, but I’ve always wondered why people use the phrase salad days to talk about their youth, and since I was looking up the origin of salad I also looked up salad days.
The OED says the first use was from Shakespeare in the play Antony & Cleopatra in 1623. The line is: My Sallad dayes, When I was greene in iudgement, cold in blood.
So in your youth, you were cold and green like a salad.