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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Cat word of the month: Marmalade

This handsome devil has his very own facebook page

Continuing on in our "Cat word of the month" series, we now look at "marmalade". (For "tabby", see this post.)

Marmalade was originally a solid jelly dessert made of quince puree, rather than a citrus fruit jam as we now know it.  The word came into English in the late 1400s via French from Portuguese marmelada, a derivative of marmelo ‘quince’. The Portuguese word came ultimately from melímēlon, a Greek term, meaning literally ‘honey-apple’, which was applied to the fruit of an apple tree grafted on to a quince  

For the first couple of centuries of the word's existence in English, it continued to be quince jam, but then a wide variety of fruit started to be used: plums, damsons, and even strawberries, dates, and carrots, but still no citrus fruit. This is still seen in other European languages, such as German, where "Marmelade" simply means "jam". Citrus fruit, and particularly oranges, became the default ingredient in "marmalade" only in the 1800s, but it then took over the English breakfast table with a vengeance. By the 1920s people began to see a connection between orange-peel-flecked preserves and striped orange cats.

There is a folk etymology about "marmalade". The story goes that Mary, Queen of Scots fell ill and was served the delectable quince dessert to fortify her. As a result it was dubbed "Marie malade" ("sick Mary"). The less said about this fanciful folk etymology the better!  

For tips on how to make "marmalade cat" cookies, see this post: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2012/12/when-smart-cookie-has-had-biscuit.html

Did you know that almost all orange cats are male? Thus one often hears them referred to as "ginger toms". Next up in our "cat word of the month" series: ginger.

Happy summer!

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.