Saturday, September 19, 2009


A listener in Cadillac, Michigan, asked about the origin of Oreo, the cookie produced by the Nabisco Company since 1912. Unfortunately, this is another case of “origin unknown.” Even the Nabisco web site fails to reveal the answer. That hasn't stopped speculation, of course.

One theory says that it was based on the French word or, meaning gold, because the original package was gold in color. Then, since the original cookie was mound-shaped, another theory points to the Greek word for mountain, oros. It appears in English as the root oro-, but that would be like calling a pimple Mount Everest.

Another theory says that the O represented the shape of the cookie, so it shows up twice in the word, with -re- stuffed between as a shortened form of cream. But that's unrecognizable; surely, they would have retained -cre-.

I have two bogus contributions to add to folk etymology. First, the word re in Latin means again or repeatedly, so Oreo could be translated as O-repeat-O. Second, yet another Greek form that has worked its way into English has the form oro-. It means mouth; what could be more appropriate?

If anyone has a documented origin, fire away.

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