Thursday, October 09, 2008

Half A Loaf

It’s always fun to play with the deeper meanings concealed in words, and today the hidden treasure is bread.

It shows up, for instance, in the word bribe. Today, a bribe is money or a favor given to a person of some authority in order to influence his or her decision. The word started out in Old French as a piece of bread, particularly one given to a beggar. As time went on, it began to refer to a professional beggar, often unsavory, who lived on alms. From there, it became plunder or spoils, and it was applied to the person who received them. Somewhere in the 16th century, direction shifted, and it became an act of the giver.

A companion is a buddy, an associate, a comrade. Literally, a companion is someone with whom you share bread (L. com, together, and panis, bread). Comrade, by the way, means a chamber-mate, someone who shares a tent with you. We can see the early military contexts involved in companion and comrade.

Arto- was a Greek combining form meaning bread, and during intense anti-Catholic eras it was hurled as an epithet. An artolater was someone who worshipped the host; he or she practiced artolatry. Much earlier, the word artotyrite was applied to a 2nd century Galatian sect whose members were alleged to celebrate the Eucharist with bread and cheese (Gr. tyros). A less vituperative use showed up in artophagous (bread-eating). From the Latin, that has a cousin in panivorous (bread-eating).

A canister is a small metal container used to hold tea, coffee, and other food items, but it started out in Latin (canistrum) with a very specific meaning: a bread basket. You might keep your canisters in a pantry, a closet or small room in the kitchen used to store food items, utensils, and other cooking and eating aids. Originally, it was a storeroom for bread (panis).

People like restaurants that feature smorgasbords because they provide a rich variety of offerings -- something to please every palate. But originally, smörgås meant a slice of bread and butter placed on the table (bord).

SIDEBAR: bread recipes

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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