Thursday, 6 November 2008

De Factoid the Thirteenth: Sarnie-rhotica

In this De Factoid we move back from the bottle to something thankfully more absorbent and join the rank and file of the sarnie-army in appreciation, and investigation, of the sandwich.

Sandwich as a word was used as a place name before its more common (and edible) usage: that of the town of Sandwich in Kent, South-East England. The latter part of the name -wich comes from the Anglo-Saxon meaning either ‘dwelling’ or ‘stream’ depending on context. Elsewhere in the country (particularly the four –wich’s of Chester: Middlewich, Nantwich, Norwich and Leftwich; and Droitwich in Worcestershire) –wich refers to a spring of salt-water. This may well be the probable meaning of the –wich of Sandwich as the town, though now two miles from the sea, was once a busy sea-side port (which may also go a fair way to explaining the Sand- element of the name) – important enough to be included as one of the five Cinque Ports (from Anglo-Norman i.e. ‘the French spoken in England after the conquest’, meaning ‘five’) given the task of maintaining ships for the Crown. During the year 1255 AD the port of Sandwich saw the arrival of the first elephant to the island (a gift from the French) since the departure of the Romans in 410 AD (there had been one before – the war elephant of Emperor Claudius brought to Colchester during the invasion of the island in 43AD) and had served – in 1216 AD – as the landing point for the forces of Prince Louis of France, who fought against King John in the Baron Wars. Queen Elizabeth I granted Dutch refugees the right to settle near Sandwich in 1560: bringing with them the techniques of market gardening that provided Britain with its first batch of home-grown celery (see De Factoid the Eleventh for other veggies); and Dutch building techniques that can still be seen in the many windmills all over Kent. Another word for ‘dwelling’ in Anglo-Saxon – ham (from where we get the word ‘home’ by the same process that saw stan become ‘stone’ and ban become ‘bone’: think Birmingham, Cheltenham, Wrexham, Rotherham and the word hamlet, ‘small town’) – gives its name to the nearby village of Ham. Though of no major historical significance, the hamlet does provide the nearby village of Worth with a road sign reading: ‘Ham / Sandwich’...

The sandwich-as-food takes its name, not from the place, but from the supposed inventor of the layered food: John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) – also after whom Captain Cook named The Sandwich Isles, later renamed Hawaii. Hawaii is another ‘homeland’ name, this time from Proto-Polynesian (see De Factoid the Ninth for a meatier description of its European brother) with cognates (i.e. ‘words of similar meaning’ from Latin cognātus – through Greek – meaning ‘descended from common ancestors’: see nate in De Factoid the Eleventh) in Māori, Hawaiki and Samoan, Savai‘i. Montagu was responsible for a large proportion of the funding required for Cook’s Pacific exploration (reflected in the Captain’s island-naming exercise) and was both Post-Master General and Lord of the Admiralty during his working life. The tale accrediting the sandwich to Montagu claims he (as a supposed gambling addict) invented the food so he could eat meat at the card-table whilst keeping his playing cards (and gambling hands) grease free. Though no doubt a useful application, the bread slices and filling probably gained the name of the earldom as a token of credibility: as upper-class tastes swayed toward a dish more commonly associated with the hungry lower-classes.

And dish, indeed, it was. Bread has always been a popular stomach-filler for the English poor (see De Factoid the Fourth); and though sandwiches existed in other cultures (Hillel the Elder – a famous Jewish Rabbi: meaning ‘my teacher’ i.e. spiritual leader – was wrapping lamb in bread as early as the 1st century BC), the first widespread usage of bread at mealtime (in a form even close to the sandwich) came with the medieval trenchers (from Latin truncare, ‘lop’, ‘cut off’: think truncated, from where we get the word trench): thick slices of bread used as dishes – to be eaten by the diner, given to the poor or discarded. This trend also hailed the invention of the Yorkshire pudding, used originally to catch the juices and fat of roasting meat, then eaten either as a side-dish or fed to children. Both trencher and pudding as words have roots in Old French and/or Latin (the latter from Old French boudin: as in the Boudins Noirs, ‘black pudding’ of De Factoid the Third) suggesting that the sandwich may originate from the Mediterranean in form, if not in name. But the foody-word sandwich is but one potential label for the dish, which changes with region and accent as frequently as filling.

One name already mentioned – sarnie – is the result of both a shortening and mutation of the longer word sandwich. The /r/ of sarnie is a product of what is technically referred to as a rhotic accent (taking its name from the equivalent of the Greek letter ‘r’ pronounced ‘rho’): prominent in the South-West and North-West of England (and due possibly to the longer lasting Celtic language influences still heard in the long Welsh and Cornish ‘rrr’) which puts an /r/ into words like khaki (rhotic pronunciation: ‘karki’): the dusty uniform colour of British Empire soldiers – from Urdu khaki, ‘dusty’; the /r/ into sandwich to sound closer to ‘sarn-widge’; and the “champagne supernova[r]” in the sky of Oasis’ hit song. Sarnie’s wide-spread usage seemed to have come from the Liverpudlian (i.e. Liverpool resident’s) usage – entering major London newspapers as a buzz-word during the 1960’s when the Merseybeat music phenomenon and its champion The Beatles were in the height of their power and linguistic influence (think: “I saw[r] a film today, oh boy” in A Day in the Life on the fantastically named album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in 1967). A similar word for sandwich – the non-rhotic, sannie – occurs in certain places around the world: used notably by (majority non-rhotic) Australians (who also use the word sanga and sammie - to name but a few variants) in a simple shortening trend that also turned ‘sun-glasses’ into sunnies and ‘barbeque’ into the world-famous Aussie, barbie. Another sandwich word found in the mouths of hungry Scousers (see De Factoid the Fourth for the origin of scouse) is buttie, which one has found (excluding the Liverpudlian trend of calling the old red-and-white police cars, jam butties) to have several possible sources of origin.

Butty as a sandwich-word is ultimately of unknown origin, but may be a shortening of the longer Latin word butyric (which gives us the English word butter and the seldom used word butyraceous: described in dictionaries as ‘resembling butter in form, substance or property’) meaning ‘to butter’. Another possible origin of the word is found in the ‘cut-piece’ idea mentioned earlier in the trencher word, as a diminutive (i.e. ‘little’ from Latin dīminuere: think ‘diminished’) version of Old English butt/bytt and/or Old Norse, butr meaning ‘a small piece/strip’, initially referring to land. Such embankments were used by the French to hold targets for archery practice (in a similar ‘landed’ meaning in French from where American-English gets the word butte, ‘isolated hill/ peak’): hence to be the butt (i.e. ‘target’) of a joke. The idea of ‘striking’ is also remembered in the head-butt (though perhaps not by the person on the receiving end…) and the thrust of a supporting buttress (though this word, with an Anglo-Latin root, may be more of an associated meaning). Another sandwich-word found predominantly in the Newcastle area – the Geordie (possibly from their support of King George II in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745; or from the George Stephenson ‘Geordie’ Safety Lamp, used by miners in the North-East) word stotty/ stottie is supposed to take its name from the Geordie-English verb ‘to stott’ (i.e. ‘to bounce’). It is probably more likely though that ‘to stott’ playfully took its name from the occasionally hard nature of the stotty-cake, which itself is likely to be related to the Old English steort: another word for ‘tail/ tongue of land’ – supporting the idea that a butty may well have started as a piece of land before it became a piece (or rather two pieces) of bread. Other butts can be found through the Middle Dutch bot, ‘stumpy’, from where we get the fish names halibut and turbot and a possible influence on the Old English word buttuc, ‘the thicker end piece’ (also originally ‘of land’) which gave English the modern word buttock.

Another usage for the word butty familiar to anyone using a Geordie lamp is found in the mining industry: referring to the ‘middle-man’ in a chain. The word itself was used earlier to mean ‘confederate’, ‘partner’ or ‘mate’ and is thought to be an adaptation of booty-mate – using ‘booty’ in the sense of ‘stolen wealth’, from Old French butin (and possibly though Old Norse býta, ‘to deal out’, ‘exchange’). Booty in its American usage (referring to the buttocks – usually of a woman) is most likely to be of imported African origin – possibly as an adaptation the Bantu (Middle and lower Africa) word bunda: though refers to the whole body, rather than just the bottom end. Bottom as a word comes from the Anglo-Saxon boþm, referring firstly to the bottom of a valley (hence the true meaning of amusing place names like Ramsbottom) and secondly to the underside of a ship (otherwise referred to as Old English: ċēol: ‘keel’) before coming to be used in reference to the buttocks. The Norse word for the small streams found running through Norwegian valleys – vík – gave its name in Icelandic tradition to the group of men who set out from their valley homes to line the bottoms of boats with booty of both the mineral and human kind: the Vikings. Bootylicious as a word first surfaced in 1992 in the lyrics of a Snoop Dogg/ Dr. Dre song entitled: “F**k wit Dr Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)”, to again be taken up in a song (and song-title) by Beyoncé Knowles of the girl group Destiny’s Child in 2001. The word combines the American usage of booty with the word delicious (‘highly pleasing’ from Latin dēlicia, ‘allure’ through Old French – think: elicit). Delicious and highly pleasing indeed, though not, perhaps, quite as edible as a sandwich...

De Factoid the Fourteenth: coming soon...