Mind your language

The linguistic ingredients of ‘salmagundi’

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

‘It makes me hungry,’ said my husband when I mentioned the word salmagundi. That is his reaction to many words. But he liked the sound of it.

I think in its sound, suggestive of something impossible to pin down, it resembles serendipity. The obscure French original of salmagundi, a dish of chopped up meat and whatnot, must have become known in English through Rabelais’s gluttonous epic. Thomas Urquhart’s translation of 1653 speaks of the ‘Lairdship of Salmigondin’. Various rationalising respellings emerged, such as Sallad-Magundy (1710). Salad, by origin something salty, was not limited to raw greenery. ‘Sallet,’ wrote Randle Holme, the herald painter, ‘is either Sweet Herbs, or Pickled Fruits, or Cucumbers, Samphire, Elder-Buds, Broom-Buds, &c. eaten with Roasted Meats.’

In Samuel Foote’s comedy The Patron (1764) one character mentions salmagundi in a different form: ‘By your account, I must be an absolute olio, a perfect salamongundy of charms.’ That or Solomon Gundy were names for the dish in the 18th century, though their near relative Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday) was not seen in print till James Orchard Halliwell’s Nursery Rhymes (1842).

Salmagundi proved popular as a title, chosen by the satirical poet George Huddesford for a collection in 1793. In 1807, Washington Irving, aged 23, started a periodical with friends called Salmagundi; or, The Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq.

In the same year as Foote’s Patron, Thomas Warton edited The Oxford Sausage: Select Poetical Pieces Written by the Most Celebrated Wits. A later edition carried a portrait of Dorothy Spreadbury, renowned as the inventress of the edible Oxford sausage. By 1819 recipes were being published for Oxford sausages of pork and veal, but Warton was probably more aware of the inherent risibility of sausages, as Aristophanes was in making a sausage-seller the hero of his comedy The Knights.

In pursuing these salmagundis and sausages, I stumbled across a fabulous semantic engine, a sort of virtual sausage machine, about which I’d like to tell you next week.

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