Words at Play

13 Breakfast Foods That Are Also Verbs

Verbs you'll find on the brunch menu
17 Jul 2019

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A waffle is essentially a crisp cake with a pattern of deep squares on both sides that is made by cooking batter in a waffle iron, a cooking utensil that has two hinged metal parts that shut upon each other and impresses the honeycombed pattern. It is often eaten with a topping of syrup, butter, sugared fruit, and/or whipped cream. The common breakfast food's name is from Dutch wafel and Middle Dutch wafele, which are akin to Old High German waba, meaning "honeycomb," and the Old English verb wefan, "to weave." English speakers began using it in the 18th century.

In American English, the verb waffle means "to be unable or unwilling to make a clear decision about what to do" (in other words, "to equivocate, to vacillate, to yo-yo, to flip-flop, to waver"), as in "The media pointed out the senator often waffled on the important issues." In British English, it means "to talk or write a lot without saying anything important or interesting"—"to blather." For example, you might say that you have a mate who waffles on about politics.

The British sense developed a noun form that means "foolish or dull talk or writing that continues for a long time." 

The Chancellor indulged in the usual waffle about building a new relationship with the EU we’ve come to expect from ministers.
— James Moore, The Independent, 29 Oct. 2018

This noun and its related verb were both given voice in the English language in the 19th-century. The verb is from obsolete woff, meaning "to yelp." The etymology implies that people who waffle are similar to a barking puppy that can't communicate what it wants or needs.

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A pancake is a thin, flat round cake that is made by cooking batter in a frying pan or griddle. The result is best stacked high and served with syrup, butter, sugared fruit, and/or whipped cream. Pancake can also refer to a layer of thick foundation or other makeup or to things that are "flat as a pancake."

A journey to visit his best friend in Malawi last July was a wake up call for [Jamar] Simien, who lives in Richmond. "It was a culture shock on every possible level. Houston is flat as a pancake and going from no real landscape to being immersed in a mountainous terrain. There was so much to see, so much to experience," says Simien.
— Susie Tommaney, The Houston Press, 13 May 2019

In the 14th century, Middle English panne ("pan") and cake were mixed together to form the noun. The verb does not appear on the English menu until the late 19th century with the meaning "to knock flat" or "to flatten." Soon after, it came to refer to the landing of an airplane that stalls and then drops abruptly in an approximately horizontal orientation with little forward motion. Such a landing is known as a pancake landing.  The related verb senses "to make a pancake landing" and "to cause to pancake" hit English ground soon after. 

Out of control, Gay's plane pancaked into the water no more than a thousand feet from the huge carrier.
— Winston Groom, 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls, 2005

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The egg is a hard-shelled oval from which a young bird is hatched, and members of the animal kingdom have found the egg to be a tasty, nutritious food source for centuries. Today, people regard it as a breakfast staple that can be prepared in many ways ("over easy/medium/hard," "sunny side up," "soft/hard boiled," "poached," or "scrambled") and eaten in many forms (sandwich, omelette, quiche). It can also be drunk in the morning as a dubious cure for a hangover.

The mix of a whole egg, stout beer, and dark rum might sound like something that would make your stomach relive the events of the previous night in reverse. But this frothy flip cocktail from Anvil bar in Houston goes down as smoothly—and soothingly—as a milkshake.
— Christopher Ross, Details, May 2012

Both the noun and verb were hatched in Middle English—but the verb is recorded in the language slightly earlier, and it is of different origin than the noun. Whereas the noun egg is from an Old Norse word distantly related to Latin ovum and Greek ōion, the verb is from an Old Norse word akin to Old English ecg, meaning "edge" or "cutting side of a blade."

The verb egg, meaning "to cover (meats or vegetables) with egg," has been used in cooking since the 19th century, and it is also in that century that bad eggs began "egging" people and things—that is, pelting eggs at them. During the 13th century, the verb began being used in the meaning "to urge or encourage (someone) to do something that is usually foolish or dangerous." However, it wasn't until the 16th century that the familiar phrasal verb egg on (as in "His friends egged him on to eat another hot chili pepper") fully matured.

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Ham and eggs is a popular breakfast dish. (Dr. Seuss famously played with it in his 1960 book Green Eggs and Ham.) The word ham goes back to Old English and has Germanic roots. It was originally used to refer to the part of the human leg behind the knee (hence, hamstring) before designating a cut of meat consisting of a thigh, as from a hog.

As a verb, ham means "to act or behave in an exaggerated or playful way," as in "The actor was hamming it up for the camera." It originates from a 19th-century minstrel song called "The Ham-Fat Man." In the latter half of that century, the derivative word hamfatter began being applied to a showy performer or an actor who performs in an exaggerated, theatrical style. Around the same time, the trimmer ham designated anyone who, when given attention, starts "putting on a performance." The verb ham makes its debut in the early 1900s.

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Cream is the thick part of milk that rises to the top and contains from 18 to about 40 percent butterfat. Light cream, which is commonly added to coffee or tea, has lower percentages, as one might expect. Medium cream contains a percentage of butterfat in the lower 30s, and heavy cream in the higher 30s up.

The noun cream rose in English during the 14th century in the forms creime and creme. They are borrowings of Anglo-French words derived from Late Latin cramum, which is of Celtic origin. In the 19th century, English again borrowed from French—this time, the modern French crème.  Crème is applied as a name for cream or creamy sauces used in cookery as well as for sweet liquors (e.g., crème de menthe or crème de cacao).

The verb cream—originally meaning "to form cream or a surface layer like the cream on standing milk"—surfaces in the 16th century. Its modern senses of "to defeat decisively" ("The team creamed their opponent") and "to hit with force" ("The surfer got creamed by a huge wave") extend from the sense of cream referring to beating a substance into a creamy froth or consistency.

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Sugar is a good example of a word that has traveled very far from its beginning. It may have originated in Sanskrit (śarkarā), and then passed on into many languages on its way to English, including Persian (shakar) and Arabic (sukkar), as well as Old Italian (zucchero), Medieval Latin (zuccarum), Anglo-French, (sucre) and Middle English (sugre, sucre).  And its spelling and pronunciation changed many times along its journey. Those pronunciations and spellings existed together for a while; however, the spelling sugar, spoken with an initial \sh\ sound, won out over all the others—even though the spelling and pronunciation do not match each other very well.  

Sugar is the familiar name of a substance, usually in the form of white or brown crystals or white powder, that comes from plants, consists chiefly of sucrose, and is used to make foods sweeter. Everyday table sugar that you might add to a breakfast beverage or food is granulated white sugar.

Surprisingly, the verb first sweetens the language in the 15th century with the figurative meaning "to make palatable or attractive," as in "a story sugared with romance" or "the gentleman sugared his request with a smile." By next century, people were "sugaring" their foods and drinks. 

There is also the expression "to sugar the pill," which first occurs in the 17th century and literally refers to making a bitter pill more easy to swallow. Figuratively, the expression came to mean "to make an unpleasant thing less difficult to accept or deal with." Variants of the expression include the verbs sweeten and gild in place of sugar.

The taxes have not been in place long enough to assess their impact, if any, on public health. A proven benefit would really sugar the pill for wary politicians.
The Economist, 28 Nov. 2015

The defence of the country would thus be placed on the spot, and the additional number would entitle the territory to become a State, would make the majority American, and make it an American instead of a French State. This would not sweeten the pill to the French….
— Thomas Jefferson, letter, 13 Jan. 1807

Now that I [Sir John Barnard] know it, now that I see what it is, it appears to me to be a scheme that will be attended with all those bad consequences…; and I plainly foresee that it will produce none of those good effects which gentlemen have been pleased to entertain us with the hopes of: They have indeed gilded the pill a little, but the composition within is still the same; and if the people of England be obliged to swallow it, they will find it as bitter a pill as ever was swallowed by them since they were a people.
A Collection of the Parliamentary Debates in England, 1741

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Technically speaking, butter is a solid emulsion of fat globules, air, and water that is made by churning milk or cream. It has long been used as a cooking fat and as a spread, and its name is derived from Latin butyrum via Greek boutyron, which itself is a combination of bous, meaning "cow," and tyros, "cheese."

The verb form begins spreading in 15th-century English in the literal sense of "to cover or spread (as bread) with butter." In the 17th century, figurative phrases, such as "to butter a person's bread on both sides" and "to have one's bread buttered on both sides," began being used to connote that a person is being provided for in a lavish or excessive degree or is delighting in extravagance. There is also the proverbial "fine/kind words butter no parsnips," which is used to say that words are useless and actions are what count.

Fine words butter no parsnips and make no better broadband speeds….
— Martin Vander Weyer, The Spectator, 20 Oct. 2018

It is also in the 17th century that the noun butter started being applied in the sense of "flattery" (as in "the butter was being laid on thick").

By the 18th century, the verb began being used figuratively in the sense of slathering someone with flattery or praise especially to gain favor. That sense most often occurs in the phrase butter up, as in "He was buttering up his client to get her to sign the contract." A lesser-known verb sense, which began being applied during the 19th century, refers to spreading a surface of brick or tile with a material, such as mortar, before setting it in place.

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Jelly is a fruit product that is made by boiling sugar and the juice of fruit until it is thick (often with the aid of pectin or gelatin—both of which are thickening agents). The product's name began being spread in the 14th century but in the forms gelly and gellie. Those spellings are derived from Anglo-French gelee—also meaning "jelly" as well as "frost"—which itself is from the feminine form, gelé, the past participle of geler, meaning "to freeze" or "to congeal." The word is ultimately from Latin gelatus, the past participle of gelare, "to freeze" or "to congeal."

The verb jelly was spread during the 16th century (the back-formation jell jelled in the 19th) with the meanings "to come to the consistency of jelly" and "to congeal or set," as in "the grapes jellied/jelled."

Jam is similar to jelly; however, it differs from jelly in its inclusion of fruit pulp or whole fruit. Whole-fruit jam is sometimes called a preserve, whose verb form generally denotes keeping something safe from harm and loss but, more pertinently, preparing fruits or vegetables for future use by canning, pickling, etc.

Jam, referring to the sweet food, was produced from the earlier verb jam, which denotes acts of pressing, squeezing, crushing, blocking, or wedging, as in "He jammed everything into one suitcase," "He jammed on the brakes," "She jammed her finger trying to catch the ball," "A piece of paper got jammed in the copier," or "The boat was jammed between the two rocks." Most of the meanings of the noun jam relate to the verb sense—for example "a paper jam," "traffic jam," "I am in a jam"—and "sweet" jam probably got its name from the squeezing and crushing of fruit to produce it.

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Etymologically, both the "food" and "drink" senses of toast are related to the Middle English verb tosten, which is derived—via Anglo-French toster—from Late Latin tostare, meaning "to roast," and Latin tostus, the past participle of torrēre, "to dry" or "to parch." Originally, toast in Middle English meant "to make thoroughly hot and dry by or as if by the action of fire or the sun," and eventually gained the specific meaning of browning bread. In the 15th century, the word was then applied to the browned slice of bread that is now commonly buttered or smothered with jelly.

What we consider French toast, bread that is covered in a mixture of eggs and milk and fried at low heat, was soaked in wine back in the 17th century. 

French Toasts. Cut French Bread, and toast it in pretty thick toasts on a clean gridiron, and serve them steeped in claret, sack, or any wine, with sugar and juyce of orange.
— Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1660   

You might assume that French toast was invented in France. It is possible. However, throughout medieval times, a similar battering process was often used by French and non-French cooks to make stale loaves of bread more appetizing, which makes finding out who cooked it first impossible.

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Fritters are a common option at a pastry shop. A fritter consists of a small quantity of batter that is fried and often filled with a fruit jelly (as is an apple fritter), but there are also other types, such as the corn fritter and the clam fritter. In New England, a griddle cake, which is essentially a pancake cooked on a griddle, is often referred to as a fritter.

In Middle English, the food's name was variously spelled fritour, fritur, and frutur. The word originates from Anglo-French friture, which itself derives from Latin frictus, the past participle of frigere, meaning "to roast" or "to fry." In the 18th century, fritter began being used as a verb meaning "to spend or waste, bit by bit, on trifles or without commensurate return," as in "He frittered away the afternoon playing video games" or "She frittered away her inheritance." The verb is believed to derive from another fritter that denotes a fragment or shred of something.

… the ancient errant knights / Won all their ladies hearts in fights; / And cut whole giants into fritters….
— Samuel Butler, Hudibras 1664

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Hash browns is short for hashed brown potatoes. The dish consists mainly of boiled potatoes that have been diced and then fried until browned. Hash and the cutting tool hatchet are first cousins: both words can be traced back to the French word for a battle-ax, hache. The English verb hash, meaning "to chop"—which is what you do to make hash browns—is based on the French verb hacher with the same meaning; it hacked into the language in the late 16th century. A few decades later, the sense of "to chop (as meat and potatoes) into small pieces" came together. The related noun form, referring to the result of such culinary work, is dished up by mid-17th century.

It is also about mid-17th century that people began using the verb to mean "to confuse" or "to muddle."

The climax comes as a shrug and a blur, with the feeling of outtakes hashed together. Even when the plot curves into flip resolution, there is a tone of dismissal, which is a poor way to treat an audience.
— David Elliott, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 Jan. 2004

By the early 20th century, people were engaged in verbal hashing—literally and figuratively. That's when the phrasal verbs hash out and hash over began to be used for the act talking about or discussing (or metaphorically dissecting) something especially in hopes of reaching a resolution, agreement, or decision. To illustrate, here are a few examples: "The brother and sister sat down and hashed out their differences," "The couple decided to hash things out about their relationship in therapy," "The students hashed over the physics problem in class," "The students hashed out possible solutions to the problem."

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Grits is a plural noun that refers to a type of ground corn that is eaten especially in the southern United States. Its exact etymology is unclear, but it might have been influenced by grit, meaning "sand" or "gravel," as well as dialectal grit, meaning "coarse meal." Whereas the "sandy" grit goes back to Old English, the "breakfast" grits dates to the 16th century. 

The verb grit is frequently used in the phrase "to grit your teeth," which goes back to the 18th century. It literally means "to press or rub your teeth together," and figuratively, "to show courage and determination when you are dealing with problems or challenges," as in "Not making the team is disappointing, but you just have to grit your teeth and try again next year." In the past, the verb would also be applied to acts producing a grating sound caused by the crushing of grit, as when the wheels of a carriage "grit" slowly along a dirt road.

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You might enjoy a glass of freshly-squeezed juice at breakfast. Juice not only refers to the liquid that is squeezed out of a fruit or vegetable (such as an orange or carrot) but that is extracted from meat during cooking. In Middle English, the word was spelled jus, a 14th-century borrowing of the Anglo-French word for "broth" or "juice." In modern English, jus survives in au jus, which means "served in the juice obtained from roasting."

Juice is also used in reference to natural fluids found in an animal's body, as in "gastric/intestinal/pancreatic juices," and to a person's inner vitality, as in "The writer's creative juices began to flow" or "The tennis player's competitive juices were flowing." In slang, the noun has come to refer to such things as alcoholic liquor, illicit drugs, anabolic steroids, and electricity or gasoline. 

The verb was extracted from the original fruity sense of the noun juice in the early 17th century with the meaning "to extract the juice of (a fruit, vegetable, etc.)." About mid-1900s, the phrasal verb juice up began to be used in two senses. It could mean "to give life, energy, or spirit to something or someone" or "to give (a person or animal) steroids or another performance-enhancing drug."




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