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'Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink,' 2nd edition

March 07, 2013|By S. Irene Virbila
  • The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink by lexicographer John Ayto
The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink by lexicographer… (Oxford University Press )

In addition to my trusty “The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,” Oxford University Press publishes countless specialized dictionaries — on modern slang, abbreviations, world place names, archaeology, music, politics, animal behavior — you name it.

One book that has an honored place in my reference library is “The Diner’s Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink” by John Ayto ($24.95), which was first published in 1990, more than 20 years ago.

The Oxford has just published the second edition and in the new introduction Ayto writes, "In the 20 and more years since this book first appeared, the food horizons of English-speakers have expanded with a rapidity only the boldest would have dared to predict.... The ground has shifted seismically beneath this dictionary’s feet, and this new edition, with over a thousand new entries and hundreds of expanded and updated ones, seeks to encompass the much-enlarged scope of the English language’s gastronomic vocabulary."

Words new to this dictionary include freedom fries, microgreens, smoothie, jungle curry, nam pla, ras-el-hanout, chimichurri, burrata, bento and Wagyu. I bet you can think of dozens more that the author has needed to add as ethnic cuisines have been embraced by foodies. 

By the way, can you guess when the word foodie made its debut? 1982.

It’s entertaining browsing through this 405-page dictionary for words you don’t know at all, such as mirch (the Hindi term for "chilli") or finding childhood favorites such as Mississippi mud pie just below it with the notation that the name originated in the 1950s. Or who would guess that the word "mocktail" dates back to 1936?

I keep the book on the coffee table for random moments and just dip in and pull out a word or two.


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