Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving words

Cranberries, long a Thanksgiving dinner staple, were originally called crane berries. That was because the stalks of the plant, weighted with blossoms or berries, were thought to resemble the necks of cranes.

On Thanksgiving in America, people will eat turkey who never eat it any other day of the year. The wild turkey is one of those American species, like the buffalo and the robin, that were so named because European settlers got them confused with other animals. The original turkey was the African guinea fowl, which at one time was thought to have originated in Turkey.

We were told by my sister-in-law, who is hosting Thanksgiving this year, that dinner could be served at either 1 or 4 p.m., depending upon when everybody could get there. She ultimately settled on 1. When I was growing up, Mom always served dinner at noon. Today we normally eat dinner at around 6. When I was in Paris, I noticed that the sidewalk cafes really didn't get busy until around 10 p.m.  I was interested to learn that the word dinner comes from the Old French desjeuner, meaning "to break fast." In other words, you can eat a meal at any time of day and call it dinner.

After dinner there may be pie. The word comes from magpie, a bird known to collect just about anything to build its nests. In the same way, pies can contain just about anything, including pumpkin.

The word stuff first referred to the material used for making clothes. Rag dolls were probably stuffed before turkeys were. After dinner we may all feel stuffed, although the more polite term is sated. Oddly enough, both sated and satisfied come from the same Old English word, sadian, from which we also get sad, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories.

After dinner (or before or during) many of us will watch football played on what is sometimes called a gridiron. We get this word, of course, from the grill commonly used for cooking, especially on outdoor barbecues. From this, we also got griddle and gridlock.

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