Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
trifles, a continuation
Well, I think this was sort of inevitable. You don't post a story on a blog about words and ignorance (amongst other things) with a title containing the word "trifle" without in the back of your mind realizing that you will need to address the puzzling nature of the term as well. I do know that a trifle is a) a thing of little or no importance, and b) a rather elaborate British dessert. The question arises--are these two things related?
I think so. "Trifle" the dessert seems to have come from the first meaning of "trifle" as a thing of no importance. Although I haven't entirely satisfied myself why it came to to be called so, I think it is less a matter of ironic understatement than the fact that a trifle is meant to be a frothy light dessert rather than a heavier cake. My guess is that it's the lightness of the concoction that got it it's name. A regular commenter here, who goes by a couple of different noms de plumes including Tales from the Birch Wood, has graciously taken on the task of hunting down the history of the dish at her blog The Widgeting Hour, which leaves me only to dig up the etymology of the original word.
Back in the early thirteenth century, "Trifle" was originally trufle, "a false or idle tale" and only later in that century took on it's more current day meaning of "a matter of little importance". The English derives from the Old French, where trufle meant "mockery" and was a diminutive of truffe, or "deception".
Oh, lord--I have played right into the punsters' hands here, haven't I? Too late to turn back, I suppose...