or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Little Learning

Tonight for supper we made jambalaya. Probably not altogether authentic, as if we care; we used maple sausage (for that Canadian touch) and big ol' tiger shrimp, and it was delicious.

And then naturally enough I began to wonder where the word "shrimp" came from, and also where "prawn" might have come from into the bargain, and if they are in fact just two words for the same thing. And now you need to know, and of course I'm going to tell you.

"Shrimp" appears to be related to two English words that derived from Germanic; "scrimp" and "shrink". And doesn't that make perfect sense? "Shrimp" is practically a portmanteau of the other two words, and all three carry connotations of tininess.

"Prawn", on the other hand, simply emerged in the 1400s. It has no antecedents (except for the alternate spellings "prayne" and "prane") and no relatives in any other language; it just came into being all by itself. I know words have to come from somewhere, but it always strikes me as fascinating and mysterious when a word just poofs into the language.

Prawns and shrimp aren't exactly the same thing, although the two words are often used interchangeably, or as special cases of one another (the word "prawn" is sometimes used in place of the putatively oxymoronic "jumbo shrimp"). The difference is in their gills: prawns have branched gills, while shrimp have lamellar, or plate-like, gills. Otherwise, pretty much the same thing, and all delicious.


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