Holiday Food Words: Eggnog, A Riot of a Word

Homemade Eggnog 3

Happy Christmas, fellow Wordniks! Today we wrap up our little series on some of our favorite holiday food words. Our final installment, that holiday grog of champions: eggnog.

The origins of both the drink eggnog and the word are unclear. Some say the beverage originated from the 14th century English posset, although posset, while milky, spicy and spiked, doesn’t contain any actual eggs.

As for the word eggnog, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1825: “The egg-nog..had gone about rather freely.” However, both Barry Popik and the Online Etymology Dictionary say eggnog is from at least the 1770s. CNN also states the “late 18th century” is the first recorded instance of the term eggnog and even claims that George Washington himself had a recipe.

This genius was hospitalized after “winning” an eggnog chugging contest.

While the egg part of eggnog comes from, well, egg, the nog part is less straightforward. While it originated in the early 1690s and refers to a strong type of beer brewed in Norfolk, England, so say both the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s not clear where the word came from. Nug is a possibility, as is noggin, a small cup or mug. By the way, noggin meaning “head” came about in 1769, says the OED, originating from boxing slang.

Finally, think eggnog isn’t anything to get up in arms about? Think again. The Eggnog Riot of 1826, also known as the Grog Mutiny, occurred at the West Point military academy over the course of two days.

What began as a Christmas Day party escalated into destructive drunkenness as cadets downed whiskey-laden eggnog, broken windows, and fired weapons willy-nilly,  (which just goes to show white people have been rioting over dumb stuff for a long time). One of the rioters was none other than Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America.

In case you missed it, check out our posts on clementines, Dundee cake, and panettone.

[Photo via Flickr, “Eggnog,” CC BY 2.0 by Natalie Maynor]

Holiday Food Words: Panettone (Not Bread of Toni)


Merry Christmas Eve! Welcome to our third and penultimate installment of our mini-series on holiday foods and their origins, linguistic and otherwise.

You’ve already learned about the darling clementine and the Scottish Dundee cake. Today we’re looking at a baked good of the Italian variety: panettone.

You know panettone as those ubiquitous boxes of sweet bread you see piled up pyramid-high in grocery stores. You’ve probably given them and gotten as gifts. But do you know where it comes from?

While Wikipedia says the bread originated in the early 20th century (by “two enterprising Milanese bakers”), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the Italian panettone, or “fruited loaf,” as coming from Milan in 1831. The earliest recorded usage in English is from 1865: “Biffi Paolo,..Milan.—Panattone (pastry); various kinds of liqueurs.”

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the bread gained popularity. In 1919, entrepreneur Angelo Motta changed the traditional recipe by “making the dough rise three times,” which gave the bread its now well-known domed shape. A few years later, another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, adapted the recipe and sold the bread under his own brand. It was the competition between Motta and Alemagna that “led to industrial production of the cake.”

There are a few myths about the origin of the word. One says that panettone derives from the Milanese pan del ton, “cake of luxury.” Another, our favorite, claims it translates as “bread of Toni.”

The Toni in question was a 15th-century Milanese baker with a beautiful daughter. A nobleman was in love with said daughter, and decided to help her by way of her father by posing as a baker and promptly inventing this rich and delicious bread, the bread of Toni. The nobleman married the daughter, and even Leonardo da Vinci was there to give his blessing to the “Pan de Toni.”

The actual origin of the word panettone is far less exciting: it’s an augmentative of the Italian panetto, “small loaf,” which is a diminutive of pane, “bread.” Pane comes from the Latin panis, “bread.” Panem et circuses, also Latin, translates as “bread and circuses” and refers to “offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.”

The Hunger Games’ trilogy takes place in the nation of Panem, where gruesome “games” are held to distract the population from huge class divisions and its totalitarian government. Peeta Mellark, the protagonist’s love interest, is a baker’s son.

[Photo via Flickr, “Homemade Panettone,” CC BY 2.0 by Nicola]

Holiday Food Words: Dundee Cake, Not Just Any Fruitcake


Yesterday we kicked off a mini-series on some of our favorite holiday food words. While we started with the well-known clementine, today we’re examining a lesser known edible tradition, at least to those of us on this side of the Atlantic: the Scottish Dundee cake.

The Dundee cake, a rich cake made with raisins, currants, sultanas, and sliced almonds, is named for Dundee, Scotland, its place of origin. The earliest citation the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has for Dundee cake is 1892 although the BBC says an early version of the recipe can be traced back “a kitchen in Dundee in the 1700s.” It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the cake began to be mass produced, namely by the company, James Keiller & Son.

Prior to the Dundee cake, James Keiller & Son was famous for its Keiller’s marmalade, named for its supposed creator, Janet Keiller, James’s wife. Legend says that James bought a large shipment of oranges, which after being held up became “less fresh.” Rather than let the oranges go to waste, enterprising Janet turned them into marmalade. (The word marmalade, by the way, is French in origin and ultimately comes from the Greek melimēlon, “honey apple.”)

But the real story, as real stories often are, is less interesting: the Keillers simply “adapted an existing recipe [for marmalade] for manufacture, by adding the characteristic rind suspended in the preserve.”


Keiller’s marmalade is also known as Dundee marmalade, which the company trademarked in 1880, according to the OED.

As for the Dundee cake, Scotland recently launched an official bid to obtain European protected status for the hearty sweet. Food and drink under such a status are protected from “the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.” In other words, products that have originated from a particular region — such as Gorgonzola cheese or Champagne  — “can only be labelled as such” if they actually come from that region.

A Scottish baker said that Dundee cake “has become so far removed from its roots that it has almost become a catch all term for any fruit cake with peel and almonds in it.”

Other Scottish foods that already have protected status are the Scotch Beef brand and Stornoway black pudding, which has been called “the best sausage made in the UK.”

[Photo via Flickr, “Dundee cake (icing),” CC BY 2.0 by Lucy Downey]
[Photo via Flickr, “Marmalade Jar,” CC BY 2.0 by Smabs Sputzer]

Holiday Food Words: The Darling ‘Clementine’


What’s better than holiday treats? How about the origins of some of those treats, linguistic and otherwise? That’s what we’ll be taking a look at this week in this mini-series on holiday food words. First up, the clementine.

Along with all those chocolates, cookies, and giant cans of gourmet popcorn, you may also receive a box of juicy clementines. The clementine — also known as the Christmas orange since the breed peaks during the winter season — is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. It began as an “accidental hybrid,” says Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The word seems to have originated in French around 1902 and might be named for Father Clement Rodier, a French missionary who is said to have discovered the breed “in the garden of his orphanage in Misserghin, near Oran, Algeria.”

The OED’s earliest citation in English is from 1926 — “The Clementine orange (a cross between tangerine and sour orange) is very severely affected [by citrus rust]” — although the Online Etymology Dictionary says the fruit might have been introduced into the U.S. as early as 1909.

Clementine is also an adjective that refers  to “various popes who took the name Clement.” This is much older, originating around 1705. The name Clement comes from clement meaning mild in temper or weather, which in turn comes from the Latin clementem, “mild, placid, gentle.” Clemency is “a disposition to show mercy, especially toward an offender or enemy.”

The female name Clementine pre-dates the orange variety, although by how long we couldn’t find. A famous Clementine — Princess Marie-Clementine Bagration — was born in 1810 while the song, Oh My Darling, Clementine, is from about 1884.

Now how about what a clementine actually is? Like we said, the OED and other sources say it’s a cross between a tangerine and an orange. However, others describe it as a cross between a mandarin and an orange, and still others call it an “often seedless mandarin orange.”

A tangerine (named for Tangier, Morocco, its place of origin) seems to be either a kind of mandarin orange or closely related. Thus, using tangerine and mandarin interchangeably appears to be acceptable.

And while we’re at it, where does the name mandarin come from? The Online Etymology Dictionary says it’s after the color of the robes worn by mandarins, or imperial Chinese officials. However, the OED describes the mandarin as “the better kind of Chinese orange” (although better than what, it doesn’t say) and suggests that mandarin here “carries connotations of choiceness.”

The word mandarin, by the way, is Portuguese in origin and ultimately comes from the Sanskrit mantrī, mantrin-, “counselor.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Clementines,” CC BY 2.0 by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble]