or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sweets to the Sweet

At the supermarket the other day, we bought a bottle of dulce de leche, which is a sort of caramel made by cooking down whole milk and sugar. I thought it was okay (I had some on a toasted English muffin and thought it wasn't salty as good caramel ought to be): Jim, who loves caramel in all its manifestations, ate some with a spoon and then said, "I would walk over my own grandmother to get this."

Then, naturally, he called it "dulce de lecherous", and then, naturally, I began to wonder exactly where the word "lecherous" might have come from. It can't be related to "leche": that means "milk" in Spanish, and is from the collection of "galakt-" words in Greek that also led to "lact-" words in Latin. (I've already done them, so you can read about them in the previous posting instead of my having to bore everyone with them a second time around.)

No, "lecher", being from the French, is unrelated to Spanish "leche": it would be, because the French word for milk is "lait". Instead, "lecher" comes from Old French "lechier", "to lick", because a lecher is someone who licks his lips at the sight of a potential conquest.

There is a related word that you don't really hear much, partly perhaps because it's too confusing: "lickerish". It means "lustful" or "lascivious" in exactly the same way that "lecherous" does, and well it might, since as its name suggests, it's also descended from "lechier" and "lick". Unfortunately, it is aurally indistinguishable from "licorice", unless you're one of those people who pronounces the last part of that word as "-iss" rather than "-ish".

"Licorice", by the way, is from the Latin "liquiritia", which is pronounced just like "licorice" with a schwa on the end. "Liquiritia", in turn, comes from Greek "glykyrriza", "sweet root", because of the delicious sweetness of the licorice root.


Anonymous joe805 said...

Thanks for calling to mind one of my favorite French expressions: "l├Ęche-vitrines" for "window shopping."

Monday, December 03, 2007 8:00:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I forgot about that one! "Window-licking"--it could hardly be more vivid.

Monday, December 03, 2007 9:45:00 PM  

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