Wednesday Word: Food (BONUS RECIPE SECTION: potato chips for lunch)

Devour This…

Today our Wednesday Word is food, most anyone’s favorite topic. Even dieters, while trying to hate or avoid food, think about food and talk about it constantly!

Disclaimer: The following fun, bite-sized morsels of trivia about the language of eating, are just that… fun facts, and are not intended to show precise details of language history.

The English word food, is ultimately related to the same root as our word fodder. Yikes! We like to be a little more elegant than our cattle when we think of ourselves sitting down for dinner. But that’s not the only bovine connection. When you think of fodder, where do you put it? You place it in a manger. And the word manger comes from the Latin word for “chewed.” Compare the Italian mangi (and feel free to imagine Weird Al Yankovic’s La-la-lasagna: “You need to eat. Mangi! Mangi!”)

As for all the other English food-related vocabulary we use, we seem to have borrowed them from across the entire continent of Europe:

  • snack is related to Dutch for “bite”
  • morsel is related to German for “bite”
  • nibble is related to Low German for “gnaw”
  • gnaw traces back to German, and is probably a word based on the sound and jaw action itself
  • chew is related to the similar Dutch and German forms
  • devour traces back via French to the Latin for “swallow down”
  • dollup comes from the Scandanavian languages, possibly being related to Norwegian for “lump.” Before you think eating a “lump” of food sounds odd, be aware that the literal meaning of taco in Spanish is “wad” (One carne asada wad with guacamole, please!)
  • luncheon possibly comes from Spanish for “slice”
  • repast means sumptuous feast but comes from the Latin for “force+feed”
  • smorgasbord comes from Swedish, and is literally “butter board”
  • buffet comes from French for “stool”
  • meal traces back to various Germanic sources meaning “time” (ultimately reaching the Indo-European word for “measure”) If meal = time, isn’t “mealtime” redundant?
  • dinner comes from French for “dine”

One English word for food which ironically, I had never really heard until I came to the Philippines, is viand. Apparently this is a poetic word, meaning simply, “item of food.” But it is used in Philippine English for “something to go with your rice” (Tagalog ulam). You see, over here, rice is the basis for the meal, and everything else is a side dish. In fact, a birthday party serving “only” fried chicken and spaghetti will be considered a snack unless there is also rice. Only rice makes it truly a “meal.”

The whole concept of ulam (something to go with rice) is foreign to Westerners. Filipinos assume that other cultures will have some equivalent food. They will ask if bread is like rice for Americans. It’s not. Neither are potatoes. If anything, meat might be the closest (well, for non-vegetarians). In the USA, when we ask “What’s for dinner?” the answer usually names the meat (i.e. main dish). But there is simply no one food that we eat every day, every meal, and without which we feel cheated.

The Palawano word for food is pegkaan, literally the gerund “eating.” And the following items are considered food: rice, meat and root crops. Interestingly, vegetables are not “food.” I know many kids in the USA who would agree with this. But the difference is, Palawano eat vegetables everyday. They even like vegetables. It’s just that veggies are “something to go with” your meal, and not really solid enough to be called pegkaan itself.

But back to that word viand. It actually traces back to Latin for “to live.” That makes sense. Eat to live, man. And how about this: in Palawano the word they use to be “full” from eating, has the same root (biag) as the word “to live.”

That does not mean, of course, that Palawano and Latin are related. It does show that everyone everywhere knows that food is necessary for life.

More than that, food is life. Food and the sharing of food. Cuisine and hospitality. Mealtimes and intimate family conversation.

Food is at the core of what it means to be human, to be alive.



Yogurt: It’s What’s For Breakfast… or Lunch… (or Snack?)

We love yogurt at our house. Although, if I was browsing the dictionary, looking for yummy foods, I might have taken a pass:

yogurt |ˈyōgərt| (also yoghurt or yoghourt)
a semisolid sourish food prepared from milk fermented by added bacteria, often sweetened and flavored.
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Turkish yoǧurt.

Mmmm! Don’t we all love “semisolid sourish food” made from fermented milk (special bonus ingredient: added bacteria)?!

But ignoring the lexical turn-off, my wife makes great homemade yogurt. Lowfat. No added preservatives and questionable ingredients. It’s a delicious, healthy breakfast food, whether alone or with fruit and/or granola. It adds a nice touch to a fruit salad lunch.

Branching Out

But I know that everybody has heard of eating yogurt in those ways. Today, I want to impress you with my great innovation. I want you to know that it is possible to eat potato chips for lunch as a healthy alternative to say, a cheeseburger.

We have started using low-fat, unsweetened homemade semisolid fermented cultures of microorganisms (er… I mean, yogurt) where you might normally use mayonnaise or sour cream to make:


GUACAMOLE: I add a dollop (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a blog, for some reason) of yogurt to my guacamole. Normally, I do not use mayo. I am a purist, and I tend to go with the more hard-core “uncut” guac. But the yogurt adds a nice tang and slightly-creamy smoothness without overpowering the texture of the avocados.

CHIPOTLE DIP: Okay, let’s get one thing straight. ANY food or condiment (with the possible exception of breakfast oatmeal) will be better with chipotle peppers added. If you don’t understand this, or you doubt my word, don’t even both reading any further. This blog will only upset you. I chop up from 1/2 to 1 canned chipotle pepper and stir it into some yogurt, and ta-dah! A delicious, spicy, smokey dip is ready. It’s that easy.

GARLIC HORSERADISH: Another easy dip with killer flavor can be made by adding some granulated garlic and horseradish to yogurt. Or use wasabi if you’re in a more exotic, Oriental mood. Believe me, this dip is not a good thing to have if you want to limit yourself to just one or two chips.

Try these out at your next party. Or just to be safe (and because you want to!) pre-test them by yourself (so you get to eat all the chips) and tell me what you think!

(Oh, and come on, WordPress… your spell checker has never heard of “wasabi”? And you think “wassail” is the more salient, modern word I am likely trying to use?)

About Bill Davis

Writer, speaker and translation and language learning consultant. I write technical articles, poetry and humor, and I am working on my first novel which is set on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
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8 Responses to Wednesday Word: Food (BONUS RECIPE SECTION: potato chips for lunch)

  1. Very interesting history lesson, but more importantly… thanks for sharing the recipes!

  2. Shelly Anderson says:

    Your dollop of humor regarding the spell checker cracked me up!
    Now I’m hungry and want to go eat something…

    • Bill Davis says:

      Go for it. I recommend you start with the garlic horseradish with some nice potato chip. Mmmm. No, wait… the chipotle… or.. why do you have to decide? Make ’em both! We’ll definitely enjoy all of those with you and Jim once we’re back in CA!

  3. Who says latin is a dead language? Quite interesting.

  4. mercadeo says:

    When I was in the 4th grade, my lunch table mates had a habit of taking the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that their mothers had lovingly prepared, (trimmed of crusts, devoid of frights like gloppy grape jelly) opening them up, arranging some potato chips over the filling and smooshing the sides back together again before eating them. I don’t have a single other school lunch memory to draw from. I don’t remember if I ever ate a Sloppy Joe, if my school district considered pizza a vegetable , or whether my mother packed apples or cheesy poofs (likely the former, drat) in my lunchbox; I also can’t remember the name of a single person at that table. But I have a have a crystalline impression, unmarred by time (and, frankly, the current brand of early senility that has caused me to need 20-odd minutes to recall the word “unmarred”), of the odd delight that was those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; I remember their crunch and I remember how they tasted.

    • Bill Davis says:

      Interesting. You just took me back to lunch room memories and nightmares. I remember smashing a Twinkie (still in a Baggie) with my lunch box to impress my friends with my great comedic talent, only to be forced by the lunch room teacher to EAT the wafer-thin, cream-and-sponge creation. Of course, it still tasted pretty good…

      Can’t remember the last time I actually ate a Twinkie, either, come to think of it.

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