Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Okay, we're still in P.D. James quasi Austen world, so this is once again a word I don't know if everyone here will have read before. But it's one I've come across and probably in the same books that I found my last post on "negus". It's a food or drink item of some sort, so it probably follows the negus in some way. In the way that I do imagine some sort of place holder image for words I am too lazy to look up, I've always thought that syllabub was a kind of Jello-y bouncy sort of thing.

...Interesting. I just did a spellcheck on the word bouncy, and while syllabub does not get the yellow marker, negus does. Strangely, "Jello-y" gets a pass as well...


Supersize me!

Not surprisingly, it's a dessert. There are many variations on the theme, but the basic idea seems to be a  heavy milk or cream mixed with sugar and slightly curdled by the mixture of wine or some other alcohol. It is supposed to have been in fashion between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, though really I can't understand why it would ever go out of fashion. Cream, alcohol and sugar--what's not to like?

There are many, many recipes out there on line, but without the slightest intention of  ever making syllabub, the one cited on Wikipedia is my favorite.  It says to mix the other ingredients together in a large bowl, "place the bowl under the cow, and milk it full."

Rather disappointingly, the etymology is unknown, and no one that I found even ventures a guess. The OED  says that "sillibus" is the preferred spelling, which I suppose will come as a bit of shock to the Baroness James. I was hoping that there would be a link to rather similar words like syllabus and syllable, but no one suggests it. I was curious to find that "syllable" actually means "several sounds taken together", and wonder if "several things taken together" might be part of the association here. Of course those are the kinds of guesses that true etymologists frown upon.

While wandering around looking for information, I ended up on the Dictionary.com site, on the word syllabus. Ever hopeful of extending our limited vocabularies, they have a little quiz at the end. This time it started out:

"Syllabus is a great word to know. So is search warrant."

Yeah, that could come in handy.


  1. This has long been one of my favorites, since I first heard Bugs Bunny use it.

  2. I don't know how far back I remember it from, but that shows that cartoons have gone downhill a good ways, vocabulary wise.

    I was thinking the same thing yesterday, listening to my sister read a chapter of the old Nancy Drew aloud to my niece.

  3. You're right! How did this ever go out of fashion?

    Brian O

  4. It's probably just as well for me, I guess...

    Brian and Peter, just as an experiment, are either of you seeing this reply in your email, since there seems to be some problem with comment notification.

  5. I have a very strong memory of a British Masterpiece Theater, god knows which one, wherein a British woman of the late 19th century is serving sillabub to her suitor. It was a bowl of white fluff and it looked severely unappetizing to me.

    Yes, Nancy Drew was a bit of a hard one to read out loud for some reason that day. I was actually tripping over the flowery verbiage of the time. Not that I am against flowery verbiage, but it was unexpected. I am certain that Nancy, Bess and George will sit down with Asa Sydney and his conniving nieces and nephews with a big bowl of syllabub just before she figures out the mystery of the Twisted Candles.

  6. Well, you were doing an excellent job of reading it, so I didn't notice any slips.

    Syllabub is always in order, though.

    Can you let me know if this comment shows up in your email?

  7. Oh, my god. The perfect milkshake. And the perfect word. And the perfect food.

  8. Pretty much, Kathleen. Pretty much.

  9. Well, just think of what kids are exposed to these days, free from the distraction of good music and rich vocabulary.

  10. Very quick with the computer skills, Peter, that I will say.

  11. And better able than you or I ever could to assess Miley Cyrus' singing and acting ability.