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Pudding all over the world

Quite recently, the Polish linguist Kamil Stachowski has published a paper “On the Spread and Evolution of pudding” (the source is the journal Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis 141, 2024, 117-137). He followed the history of pudding in England, the United States, Germany, France, and Italy. The present post owes its inspiration to Stachowksi’s paper (a few statements will be lifted from it without quotes), but some of the etymological musings are mine. On the face of it (read my lips: I have used this idiom on purpose), the origin of pudding is rather obvious. Consider pad ~ paddock “frog” (enough has been recently said in this blog about frogs’ propensity to puff themselves up), pod, pudge ~ podge “a short fat person,” poodle, and a few other similar p-d words, all of which convey the idea of swelling. Probably it is the sound of p that provided the inspiration. To produce p, we press and open the lips; hence the vague idea of puffing. Also, consider the verb pout and all the puddles and piddling people you have failed to avoid in your life. Such words are sound-symbolic, rather than sound-imitative (like crush, crash, grunt, growl, and so forth).

Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Pudding probably belongs with all such p-t ~ p-d words. Because what is a pudding? Once, very long ago, the familiar word meant “sausage” (this statement will surprise many, but such is indeed the beginning of all puddings) and later, “boiled and steamed cake.” The cake was originally boiled in a bag “to a moderately hard consistence,” as the sources tell us. A pudding has the tendency to spread, to puff itself up (so to speak). Curiously, though the word pudding was attested in English texts around the year 1100, for the first two and a half centuries, it seems to have occurred only as a byname or a name. This, I think, points to the old word’s expressive register (slang). We often encounter nouns that originated in rude mockery but were later “ameliorated.” As regards names, the modern noun boy may be a continuation of Old English Boia.

It is curious how the sense “sausage” stuck to pudding. In the post-medieval period, Jack Pudding was the name of a famous buffoon (attested as early as 1635). His continental counterpart was the German comic character Hanswurst, that is, “Hans sausage.” The word is northern German. I do not know the literature on the names of those clowns, but I wonder: aren’t we dealing with some sort of common North-European slang? And why pudding, that is, sausage?

Clowns still appear with a long nose on the face. Pinocchio (that is, his ancestor Burattino: not a clown, but a great master of tricks and the embodiment of mischief) had such a nose too. Was “sausage” a vulgar substitute for “penis”? A helpful synonym dictionary informed me that today, among the amazingly numerous words for “penis,” one finds sausage, hotdog (!), and quite a few other nouns of this type. Stachowski mentions the fact that pudding “penis” was around as early as 1693. Apparently, people don’t change, and manners don’t improve.

Pinocchio, famous for his tricks and long nose.
Image by Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr. Public domain.

But back to etymology. Anglo-Norman had the word bodeyn ~ bodin “(blood) sausage,” and following the OED, most dictionaries look upon this word as the source of the English noun. A few cases of Old French initial b becoming p in Old English borrowings are known. But the OED does mention the possibility of a native origin. If native, pudding may align itself with other p-d words, like those mentioned above. Also, the OED admits that both etymologies have a chance, because pudding might be an Anglo-Norman borrowing from Germanic. In any case, –ing in pudding seems to be the continuation of –yn of bodeyn.

If my idea of pudding as slang has any virtue, the North Germanic hypothesis does not sound too bold. Stachowski also admits such a possibility. The p ~ b problem more or less disappears if the word was sound-symbolic: in such nouns and verbs, the occurrence of p and b was not regulated by any rigid “sound law.” Who cares whether you say boo to a goose or pooh-pooh your friend’s warning! Stachowski also favors the Germanic etymology of pudding. On the whole, the origin of pudding seems to be rather clear, especially in comparison with the almost hopelessly obscure haggis.

Say boo to a goose.
Image by Wellcome Collection via Rawpixel. Public domain.

As noted, the first attestation of pudding (in this survey, I depend on Stachowski’s summary of the data in the OED and other sources) points to “sausage.” When used in the plural, the sense “bowels” emerged. However, as early as the middle of the 16th century, pudding could already refer to a sweet preparation, or to what is today known as bread pudding. We can ascribe this development to “the fact that the distinction between… the main course and the dessert was not as rigorous during the Tudor period as it is today, and meat was regularly paired with fruits.” Additionally, we are told that bread pudding can also be seen as the transitional form with regard to consistency, and in the 17th century, puddings boiled in cloth were recorded for the first time. Regardless of the many niceties found in those old recipes, pudding shifted its meaning toward “cake.” “The leitmotif of that seemingly unexpected change is ‘a mixture of fine ingredients in a sauce’.”

Finally, the American version of pudding made its appearance. The new dish bears resemblance to thick custard or blancmange more than to a cake. Consequently, from cake to custard. (Those interested in cowardly custard will find some information in my post for May 17, 2023: On Cowards and Cowardly Custard from a Strictly Linguistic Point of View.”) We are told that though this new kind of pudding has never completely replaced the old usage of the word, it has relegated it to second place, and not just in America. I’ll skip the history of many other figurative senses of pudding and the word’s travels through three European countries, with the by now familiar p- ~ -b variation.

Since sausage and puddings are historically connected, while sausage belongs with pork, I may be excused for returning to my database of unpublished idioms, to reproduce the following letter from Notes and Queries (November 11, 1882, pp. 388-389): “In Memoirs of the Rebellions in Ireland, including that of 1798, &c., third edition, 2 vols. 8vo, 1802, one gentleman is recorded to have remarked to another, whom he was engaged in translating to another sphere, ‘You lie there, my lad, in lavender, like Larry Ward’s pig. Who was Larry Ward; and why did his pig rest in lavender?’ No answer ensued. Idioms with references to such characters are numerous, and some of those probably emerged merely for the sake of alliteration. Here, my ladlie like Larry Ward’s pig in lavender). But is this all there is to the question? The internet informs us that pigs seem less stressed if their barn if scented with lavender. I also found Lavender Pigs Fabric. Apparently, the association between pig and lavender in that old sentence was not quite fortuitous. This is a promising clue. But to repeat the question: who was Larry Ward? Comments and conjectures are welcome.

Featured image by HarshLight via Flickr. CC2.0.

Recent Comments

  1. Stephen Goranson

    “On the fritz” has been mentioned before. Here’s a use of the phrase earlier than those in OED. It appeared in Star of Hope, September 23, 1899, 16/1, by Sing Sing inmate number 315, copied via
    American Prison Newspapers and JSTOR:
    “To be perfectly candid—the Catholic Choir is on the ‘fritz.'”
    This and other early uses, sometimes spelled “on the friz,” or “on de fritz,” may refer to freezing or frozen.

  2. Maggie Catambay

    I had to look up “Hasty Pudding” recipe and the Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatricals after reading your blog.

    Of course, as a child, Mom made Jello Puddlng which is pretty hasty to prepare.

  3. Jonathon Green

    Larry Ward in lavender: might I suggest a look at ‘lay up in lavender’ in https://greensdictofslang.com/entry/xyfphly. Not perhaps any of the slang senses, but the SE ‘put aside carefully for future use’. But note also, perhaps, https://greensdictofslang.com/entry/em6ub4a

  4. Stephen Goranson

    Though I failed to find an actual Larry Ward, pig tender, the perfumed pig saying is attested in a reported Irish legal proceeding of 1799 in Richard Musgrave’s Memoirs.(1802) appendix page 90.
    Of more recent note:
    Research in Veterinary Science, v. 171, May, 2024,
    “Can environmental nebulization of lavender essential oil (L. angustifolia) improve welfare and modulate nasal microbiota of growing pigs?” A. Elmi, et al.

  5. Bevan

    Linguistics trips are of a different nature from those of “science”. Science is nothing but lying trips. (I delved in this for the first part of my life, so I know a bit. When I discovered it, I left.)
    Science, philosophy, religion are not knowledge. They are made up. This is why they are continuously revised and modified. They are not alive.
    Language is alive. It doesn’t modify, it lives! Language is the sort of knowledge one acquires, and loses, as if on a rollercoaster: landscapes, landscapes.
    Then there is the knowledge of carpentry, etc.; i.e., how to live and make it better.
    So, artisans and craftsmen telling stories after building a house contains what it means to live and have fun.
    Keep going!

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