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?

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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...

14 comments:

  1. The enigma that is the sense of humour of people living in the Middle Ages is not added to the pot.

    An ability to pun well was once considered a very great skill, it seems.

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  2. Sorry, is "now" added. The wind here has me addled.

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  3. Oh, yes, and all these meanings of the word (and connected ironies) relate to the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trifles

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  4. I had never heard of "Trifles" and it sounds well constructed.

    "http://plays.about.com/od/plays/a/trifles.htm"

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  5. You may not have played into the punsters' hands, but you have opened yourself to questions about how any of this is related to truffles, whether of the chocolate or the fungal variety.

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  6. I'd like to see or at least read that Glaspell play.

    I got sidetracked trying to track down the movie, Trifling Women, but it is one of those lost ones of which only little clips remain.

    Peter, I thought about truffles, and learned they are not connected. Truffles seem to be most likely related to the Late Latin tufera, and the Latin tuber--or edible root. Makes sense.

    I can't believe that I am the one who has to do the pun.

    What does an incorrigible liar swear to tell in court?

    The truffe, the whole truffe, and nothing but the truffe.


    Bah da bing, bah da boom!

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  7. Most of interest here is how the ingredients have changed over the centuries.

    Rosewater was used in the original and up to recently custard (the yellow sort made with a bought packet containing cornflower) or one of the more elegant French "cremes" was expected.

    This is good:
    "http://palaisdesdelices.canalblog.com/archives/delices_chocolates/index.html"

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  8. Yes, the shift is interesting. That article looked, well, mouthwatering, but I don't really read French. Although I get the general idea...

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  9. I think you'll easily find the Nigella Lawson recipe for Chocolate Mousse in English on the net.

    Staying with the changes in cooking styles, I had never come across putting melted marshmallows into chocolate mousse. And the French word "guimauve" (marshmallow) is used in Anglophone cookery circles as this shows:

    "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshmallow"

    It's strange to think that they were once made with an actual plant, the hollyhock.

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  10. It's funny, but though putting marshmellows in things--everything from sweet potatoes to fruit salads--was quite standard in my childhood, now I think it is seen as a bit old-fashioned and not trendy at all.

    The American question would be, how does Martha Stewart view them? I'm sure she could do plenty of clever things with them. The question is, would she?

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  11. Hmm, today’s marshmallows lack their original ingredient, and Coca-Cola has no cocaine in it. How much ginger does ginger ale have? And what other foods and drinks have lost their principal ingredients but retained their names?
    ====================================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  12. Talk about your inauthentic!

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  13. More foods must be on the list. I thnk a few may be on the top of my tongue.

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  14. My answers to your blog posts have got so prolix, I've posted here:

    "http://widgetinghour.blogspot.com/2012/01/sweetmeats.html"

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