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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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Thursday, April 28, 2016

A smorgasbord of possibilities

Inquiring minds want to know...

What's with the word "smorgasbord"? Does anyone use it anymore?

In my Winnipeg youth, quite a few restaurants boasted a smorgasbord or all-you-can-eat buffet, but it's a word that is hardly ever used in English in this literal sense anymore, except referring specifically to the original Swedish buffet of open sandwiches and other dishes, such as smoked and pickled fish, cheeses, and salads. 

Its etymology is as follows:
< Swedish, < smörgås (slice of) bread and butter ( < smör butter, cognate with smear n. + gås goose, lump of butter) + bord board n., table
Food fashions are notoriously transient, and the smorgasbord trend of the 60s and 70s seems to have been particularly fleeting. I don't really know if these smorgasbords limited themselves to authentic Swedish food; I rather think they were just buffets with a fancy name. 

But we English speakers have not abandoned the word "smorgasbord". That would be so unlike us, to get rid of a good word. It is alive and well meaning "a rich variety or selection".   Here are some examples of the types of smorgasbord we may hear about today:
a smorgasbord of:
political candidates
law school dropouts
Do you use the word "smorgasbord" to mean "buffet"? Did you in the past?

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  1. Just last week, I noticed a restaurant that offered Chinese smorgasbord, in Vernon, BC. The sign was a blast from the past, a permanent feature on the side of the building.

  2. A Chinese smorgasbord, how multiculti is that! I love Canada.


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.