Today I am excited to announce a new type of article. In collaboration with Nicola Miller, we have a glorious new mix of etymology, history and food and plant properties!

I am very pleased to have had the chance to work with Nicola on this. Nicola Miller is the editor of Bury Spy digit news and food editor for the Spy News Group. She is an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to etymology. She blogs at: The Millers Tale


Such a small word, and yet such a long history! And so important in cooking, of course.


The modern English form has not changed a great deal over the course of history. Taking a step back to Middle English, we can find it variously spelled as garlec, garleek and garlek, among others. Let’s take a look at an example from 1399, from the Forme of Cury:

Take Colyandre Powdour of Peper and garlec ygrounde in rede wyne.

This work translates as “forms of cooking” – the ‘cury’ is in fact from French cuire. It is a collection of recipes claimed to have been written by the Master Cooks of King Richard II.

Just a few years previously, Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales:

Wel loued he gā̆r-lē̆k, oynons, and eek lekes.

Here, you can see that it has been written as two parts put together, and you might wonder why. The reason is, of course, simple. Garlic is indeed formed of two parts. It comes from Old English garleac or garlec in some dialects, which consists of gar and leac. We will start with the first element: gar. This meant ‘spear’. You have only to look at the shape of the cloves to see why it might be called a spear – they do indeed look similar to the shape of a spear-head. This term, gar, has of course become obsolete, but we can see a well-known example of it in Beowulf, from around the 10th century:

Hwæt! We Gár-Dena, in geárdagum, þeódcyninga þrym gefrunon

Lo! We have heard renowned the Spear-Danes’ great kings in days of yore

Let’s take a look at the second element: leac. There is nothing strange about this at all. Quite simply, it means ‘leek’, another word that remains little changed!

Ðæt greáta cráuleác; nim ðes leáces heáfda

That makes crow-garlic; take the leeks on the rise

From Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, a collection of Old English source texts.

The Old English word is thought to derive from Proto-Germanic *lauka. There are cognates to be found in other Germanic languages; Swedish lök and Danish løg both meaning ‘onion’, Dutch look and German Lauch, meaning ‘leek’.

The Plant Throughout History

Allium Sativum, or Garlic as it is more usually known has a long and noble history as food stuff and an even longer one as a herbal medicine and tonic. Indeed, for a long period of our history, the eating of garlic for pleasure alone was eschewed by many different cultures although we can find much documented evidence in the form of almanacs, treatises and records for its use in medicine by herbalists, medicine men and other men (and women) who took responsibility for the health and welfare of their community.

The ancient Egyptians possessed a medical papyri, Codex Elsers, dating back to circa 1500 BCE recorded 22 formulas for medicinal remedies with garlic at their heart. This plant polymath offered up a cure for heart disease, worms, and tumors and has been cultivated for over 6,000 years and grown in Egypt since 3200 BCE.

The Ancient Egyptians have been described as being much enamoured of garlic and legend says that slaves put to work to construct the pyramids were fed large amounts of it to strengthen their bodies and prevent infection after they were injured (and one imagines this was a frequent occurrence). Surprisingly enough, when Moses led the Hebrew slaves from Egypt (around 1200BCE), garlic was one of the ‘finer things’ they complained of missing along with cucumbers, fish, leeks, onions and melons.

Centuries later and during the First World War, British physicians mixed garlic juice with water to create a topical antiseptic for wounds with Russian doctors following in their footsteps in the Second World War. The doctors took it a step further though in supplementing their soldiers diet with both onion and garlic, giving it its nickname of ‘Russian Penicillin.’ This more recent use of the bulb as a treatment for war wounds is strongly reminiscent of the faith placed in its talismanic protection against wounds inflicted by spears and Greek battalions were presented with it to give them courage and promise of victory too.

Of course we now know that this tacit knowledge has an evidence base. The essence of what Culpeper, the renowned herbalist and apothecary said in The English Physitian back in 1653, has been backed up by empirical research:
“In choleric men it will add fuel to the fire; in men oppressed in melancholy, it will attentuate [weaken] the [melancholic] humour, and send up strong fancies, and as many strange visions to the head; therefore let it be taken inwardly in great moderation; outwardly you may make more bald with it”

The adding fuel to the fire is Culpeper associating choleric humour with an elevated temperature (fever) and in humoral physiology, encouraging a sick person to run a ‘good’ fever was seen as therapeutic, encouraging the flushing of impurities from the body. We know that garlic reduces cholesterol, the viscosity of blood and its lipids and we also know that a melancholic disposition (according to Culpeper) can be linked to an increased risk of blood viscosity. Or to be more specific, a person prone to low mood or depressive disorder which causes them to reduce their activity is at increased risk of fatty build up in their circulatory system and disorders of circulation. Clever old Culpeper.

The spear shape of garlic shoots, from the above ground foliage to the tiny spear at the centre of the bulb which slowly greens up and becomes bitter after harvesting inspires its Old English name- garleac or garlec with ‘gar’ meaning ‘spear’ as Millie explains above. Culpeper ascribes a celestial ruler to all living plants and garlics ruler is the warlike, passionate and dominant Mars. This kingship may be inspired by the warrior like (and phallic) spear of those etiolated and pointed leaves which are analogous to the glyph for Mars. Additionally let’s look at where garlic originates from: the arid and scorching lands of the Middle East and West Central Asia, migrating east toward China and west into Southern Europe, Garlic thrives in soil which is sandy, thin and allows the bulb to push its spears straight and true, unhindered by clay sod which might cause it to deviate from its path to the sun. It is not a great leap of the imagination to see why its botanical requirements caused Culpeper to ally it to Mars, the hot, red planet- depicted as sere and superheated in its atmosphere and garlic also pushes its scape (a false flower stalk), towards the light in the northern hemispheres springtime which falls in the astrological house of Aries (ruled by Mars).

The tombs of Egypt probably contain the oldest records of the existence of what the French call the ‘Stinking Rose’ with clay sculptures of its bulbs dating back to 3700BCE and paintings depicting the plant in another tomb which have been dated to 3200BCE. The Greeks and Romans did not initially share in Egypts passion though, much less ascribing the bulb a place in its high culture. Initially the citizenry of Greece, and especially its aristocracy, refused to consume garlic, finding its aroma and after effects repugnant and vulgar and banning those smelling of it from entering temples. Aristotle flew in the face of this though and included garlic in his lists of foodstuffs he deemed to have aphrodisiac effects and Hippocrates prescribed it as a panacea albeit with reservations and contra-indications: “[it] causes flatulence, a feeling of warmth on the chest and a heavy sensation in the head; it excites anxiety and increases any pain which may be present.”

The Romans, like the Egyptians, fed garlic to their slaves and labourers hoping that they would be invigorated enough to do their (no doubt) arduous work. To smell of it was a sign of low status and class and Pliny the Elder stated, “Garlic has such powerful properties that the very smell of it drives away serpents and scorpions” although he then went on to list a humongous amount of conditions cured by it. This stimulating reputation is a familiar one across many different world religions: garlic was deemed to upset the spiritual balance of Buddhist practitioners, was rejected by Zen masters and both Hindu and Brahmin observants avoid it for similar reasons. Intriguingly the reproductive nature of the bulb is the reason why Jains do not eat it or similar vegetables such as onions. Garlic reproduces itself by producing a multiplicity of cloves in each bulb which detach and fatten up to form a new ‘head’. Jains believe that each one of these is a potential new life and feel that the destruction of a head of garlic is to destroy multiple lives.

Amusingly enough, the ever pragmatic faith of Judaism recommends the eating of garlic on Fridays, the day before the holy Sabbath in its Talmud (the book of rabbinical teachings) because of those same stimulating properties. Sex on a Sabbath is considered an act of both faith and good deed, especially garlic fuelled passion! Chaucers Sommour who was ‘lecherous as a sparwe’ agreed, as in the quote from above; “Well love he garleek, onions and eek lekes” and across Central Europe, the dog, gander, bull and cockerel would be kept fierce, strong and fit on a diet of fat garlic bulbs. Its fecund ability to produce many offspring from one tiny fingernail sized clove led to the most obvious of conclusions with regards to the potency of breeding animals but it was also administered to livestock as protection against the evil eye. For their human owners, to dream of garlic was said to be a sign of hidden treasure and a clear reference to its secret life underground, swelling, growing and dividing which must have been pretty mindblowing to those yet to discover the botanical science behind its reproduction.


Today is Tsiknopempti (Greek: Τσικνοπέμπτη). This is a day when the air fills with the smell of meat cooked over charcoal. In short, it is a day of street barbecues in Greece, and to reflect that, today’s word is barbecue.

Various folk etymologies have been put forward for the origin of this word. The one I personally find most amusing is that it comes from French, and that the expression was barbe à queue, which would mean ‘beard to tail’. The idea is that a whole animal was strung up and roasted completely. Nice idea, but no, that is not where the word comes from.

The first time it appears in Europe is in 1526, when Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés uses it in his Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola. Oviedo was a venturer who explored the Caribbean during the 1500s. He used the word barbacoa in Spanish. It was then used to describe the raised wooden rack which was used by native peoples in what is now Haiti, the Taino people. For them, this rack was a cooking device. It would be hung about with meat, which was then slowly smoked. They called the rack barbacoa, or at least, that is how it sounded to Spanish ears. The original language, known as the Taino dialect of Arawak, was not written down.

Back in Europe, the word was adopted into English. Barbacoa quickly became barbecue, more suited to the sound patterns of English, and the sense transferred from the frame used for cooking the meal to the meal itself. By 1755, it had come to mean the social occasion of an outdoor roasted meal, and Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language.

So, in the spirit of today, buen provecho! Or perhaps, since it is Greece that is celebrating, καλή όρεξη!

You can experience Tsiknopempti through my story on Jump Mag


It’s that season of the year: the Carnival. Long before the advent of Christianity, people held celebrations at this time of year. In Germany, they once looked forward to sending Hel, the goddess of the underworld, back down to her abode so they could herald the coming of the spring. In Greece, it was a time to worship the god Dionysus and celebrate one’s sexual nature.

With the arrival of Christianity, the celebrations continued, but changed in nature, gradually becoming more and more linked to the new religion. The Carnival is held in the period before the start of Lent, and Lent is the time when good Christians were supposed to fast, to abstain from meat. It is this that has given us the word we use today.

English took the word from French, where it was carnaval. This in turn came from Italian carnevale, which developed from older Italian dialects, where it may have been carnelevare or carnelevale. This quite literally means “lifting flesh”, and was used in the sense of lifting the flesh, or the meat, away; removing the meat.

It comes from a combination of Latin caro, meaning ‘flesh’ and levare, meaning ‘lift, raise, remove’. And what better time to use this word than when neat was supposed to be removed? Or at the very least, in the period before that time. Gradually, the word took on the sense of the season of celebration rather than being related to the coming fast.

To celebrate the Carnival, I have written a book for pre-teens, continuing the adventures of Lucy Evans and expanding on the theme of experiencing other cultures and traditions from within

lucy_evans_helau_coverRead more about it here

Pulling Along

What a word to pull out of my hat! I thought about another one, but then I pulled myself together and pulled away from the other option!

I live in a nice town, with an archaeological site that could pull in many visitors – if the council pulls its act together, although I doubt they will pull it off. Getting them started on any project is like pulling teeth, it must be admitted. It’s not like them to pull out all the stops. In fact, they tend to prefer to pull their punches. I would be worried about entering into a business agreement with such people, for fear that they might suddenly pull out without warning. It is tiring having to pull strings all the time to get things done!

The police can pull you over for going through a red light, or if you pull out without indicating, and you may get pulled up short. You might pull up your socks, or be pulled up because they have fallen down, spoiling your appearance. Especially if you pull up outside Buckingham Palace; not the best place to be pulled up. Better to pull your socks up now in terms of how you look!

I heard that they pulled the troops back – it may have been after they pulled out of the coalition, although I think it was because of the building that was pulled down. They had forgotten to pull their supplies out of it first!

If you are ill, then we hope that you will pull through, but if you have a needle, then it is the thread that must be pulled through.

I am not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, or even pull a fast one. I would not pull your hair out. So pull yourself together; enough of such thoughts!

Guest Post – on translating a Phrasal Verb article

Guest post by Anne of Translating Meaning. You can find her on twitter as @MotherGoutte. I will leave it to her to introduce herself and her fabulous article

Phrazal verbes, ouat arr phrazal verbes ? Des verbes a particules, c’est quoi des verbes a particules ?

French by birth, half English by heart, I am a mother of four and amateur translator hoping to become a professional.

I would like to address heartfelt thanks to Millie for kindly invited me on her blog. We thought it might be amusing to translate in French one of her phrasal verb posts, phrasal verbs being a concept very alien to the French language!

I chose ‘Bringing a Verb to Light’, of which Millie’s version follows.

Despite the fact that writing a blog doesn’t exactly bring home the bacon, I can’t bring myself to give it up.

Far be it from me to bring something up indelicately, but it’s time to bring to your attentionthe fact that I am soon bringing out a book, and if I can bring you round to the idea of buying it, that will bring my credit up! If I can bring it off successfully, then that will bring me into the limelight!

I can bring up the subject of my children, who I am bringing up, and who may also bring up their dinner sometimes. When they do, you might think it was brought about by a tummy bug, after all, we are not at sea, so it is not a ship being brought about. At least I’ve never needed to bring them to, or perhaps even bring them round, they are not in the habit of losing consciousness!

I heard that Peter brought down a bird when he was hunting – he shot at it once. I hope the same didn’t happen to the president when he was brought down! Although there are those he say he needed to be brought down a peg or two after the new trade legislation that he brought in.

Well. I doubt I’ve brought the house down, but I hope I’ve brought some smiles to your faces!

Now, the bane of a translator is literal translation. It’s a treason to meaning, form, grammar and culture, but it can be done in derision and the effect is undoubtedly funny. This is what I have done here, at least for the phrasal verbs. I have chosen to translate the rest of the text as a more meaningful translation ! I’ll come back later to the different choices I made but for now, here it is (I have written the phrasal verbs in bold as Millie had done in her text).

Malgré le fait qu’écrire un blog n’amène pas vraiment le bacon à la maison, je ne peux amener moi-même à l’abandonner.

Loin de moi l’idée d’amener quelque chose en haut de façon indélicate, mais il est temps que j’amène à votre attention le fait que je vais bientôt amener un livre dehors, et si je peux vous amener vers l’idée de l’acheter, cela amènera certainement mon statut en haut ! Si je peux amener cela à fin avec succès, alors cela m’amènera dans les lumières de la scène !

Je peux amener en haut le sujet de mes enfants, que je suis en train d’amener en haut, et qui pourraient aussi amener en haut leur repas, parfois. Lorsque cela arrive vous pourriez penser que cela a été amené à propos par une gastro, après tout, nous ne sommes pas en mer, donc ce n’est pas un navire en train d’être amené de retour. Du moins je n’ai jamais eu besoin d’amener à eux, ou peut-être même les amener de retour, ils n’ont pas l’habitude de perdre conscience !

J’ai entendu dire que Pierre avait amené un oiseau en bas alors qu’il chassait – il tira dessus une fois. J’espère que la même chose n’est pas arrivée au Président quand il a été amené en bas ! Bien qu’il y ait ceux qui disent qu’il avait besoin d’être amené en bas d’un cran ou deux après la nouvelle loi sur le commerce qu’il a amenée dedans.

Enfin, je ne pense pas avoir amené la maison en bas, mais j’espère avoir amené un sourire sur vos lèvres !

My first choice was to decide how to translate ‘bring’ which can mean amenerramener or rapporter , according to the context, and whether to use the different translations or just one. I decided for just one to be more in tune with the original text, and I chose amener (e.g. J’amènerai le dessert – I will bring the pudding).

The prepositions or adverbs presented two difficulties :

*As any other word, there isn’t just one way to translate them, according to what the writer, or speaker, wants to convey.

*In the same way that the meaning of the verb changes according to the preposition or adverb added to it, the meaning of the preposition or adverb changes according to the meaning of the verb (are you following?). For example : If I can bring you round to the idea… and Perhaps even bring them round. In the first sentence there is a sense of influencing someone’s mind, it’s round as towards (which is how I translated it : vers). In the second sentence we could say ‘bring back to consciousness’ but ‘bringing round’ is a simpler way to say it. The latter presents yet another difficulty (I know!) : whether it’s common to use stranded prepositions in English (a preposition at the end of a sentence), it doesn’t work in French. That’s why I could not use vers again for ‘Perhaps even bring them round’ – it’s always vers something –  but chose instead de retour (returning, or back).

I also used de retour for ‘it is not a ship being brought about’. In this case ‘brought about’ has got a specific meaning, particular to nautical vocabulary and means the ship makes a U-turn. I chose to use de retour also to echo an other sentence in which I use it and have, as in the original text, several times the same verb-presposition associations.

Another sentence that was quite tricky was ‘If I can bring it off successfully’ as there is no single word equivalent of ‘off” in French. I tried a lot of different combinations, none of which pleased me! Eventually I chose à fin : two words instead of just one preposition in English, but That’s what I did with de retour too.

Then I thought of something else that could be quite fun to do. I translated the article in a more conventional French ! Here it is.

Malgré le fait qu’un blog ne fasse pas vraiment bouillir la marmite, je ne peux me résoudre à l’abandonner.

Loin de moi l’idée de faire une remarque mal-à-propos, mais il est temps de porter à votre connaissance qu’un livre dont je suis l’auteur va bientôt sortir, et si je peux vous amener à l’acheter cela relèvera mon statut! Si je peux mener cela à bien, alors je serai sous les projecteurs!

Je peux soulever le sujet de mes enfants, que j’élève, et dont le dîner peut parfois remonter (note that it’s the dinner coming back up as opposed to the children bringing it up). Lorsque cela arrive, vous pourriez penser que cela a été entraîné par une gastro, après tout, nous ne sommes pas en mer, donc il ne s’agit pas d’un navire qui a changé bout pour bout. Du moins je n’ai jamais eu besoin de les ramener à eux, ni même de les ramener à la vie , ils n’ont pas l’habitude de perdre conscience !

J’ai entendu dire que Pierre a abbattu un oiseau alors qu’il chassait – un seul coup de fusil. J’espère que la même chose n’est pas arrivée au président lorsqu’il a été battu ! Bien qu’il y ait ceux qui disent qu’il avait besoin d’être rabattu d’un cran ou deux après la nouvelle loi sur le commerce qu’il avait introduite.

Enfin, je ne pense pas avoir cassé la baraque, mais j’espère que votre visage s’est fendu d’un sourire.

And back again to English with a literal translation of the bold writing !

Despite the fact that writing a blog doesn’t exactly make the cauldron boil, I can’t resolve myself to give it up.

Far be it from me to make some remarks malapropos, but it’s time to bear to your knowledge the fact that I have written a book that will soon come out, and if I can bring you to buying it, that will raise my status ! If I can bring this to good, then I will be under the spotlights !

I can raise the subject of my children, who I am raising, and whose dinner may also come back up sometimes. When it does, you might think it was brought about by a tummy bug, after all, we are not at sea, so it is not a ship being changed  end for endAt least I’ve never needed bring them back to themselvesor perhaps even bring them back to life, they are not in the habit of losing consciousness!

I heard that Peter brought down a bird when he was hunting – he shot at it once. I hope the same didn’t happen to the president when he was beaten ! Although there are those he say he needed to be brought down a peg or two after the new trade legislation that he introduced.

Well. I doubt I’ve broken down the hut, but I hope your faces have splitted into a smile !


To celebrate my forthcoming tween fiction; Lucy Evans, The InstaExplorer, I decided to look at the word ‘explore’.

It does not take a lot to imagine that it might be from Latin, as it resembles other Latinate words, and indeed this is the case. We start to find it as a verb in around the 1580s. But it was used as an adjective and noun before that time. Consider this example from around 1460. It comes from Knyghthode and Bataile (Knighthood and Battle), which is John Neele’s paraphrasing into Middle English of the Latin text De Re Militari, by Vegetius.

exploratory for to aspie fer & neer

(exploratory, in order to scout far and near).

It might have come into English via Middle French explorer, or else direct from Latin explorare, meaning “investigate, search, explore”.

The word is made up of two elements: ex-, which is a common prefix and can also appear in words of Greek origin. It means “out”. The second element is plorare, which meant “weep, cry”. You may be wondering how this came to have the meaning we know today! What has weeping got to do with investigating and exploring?!

It is not as far-fetched as it may appear. The word started out meaning “crying out”, and as it was used by hunters, the word underwent a sense development. It gradually took on the meaning of the whole expedition of hunting, searching for a quarry, rather than the crying out that the hunters did.