Curry F(l)avor

Earlier this week, Steven was home for “fall break” (otherwise known as “catch up on grading”), and together we made a big pot of curry stew to carry us through the next several meals. Leftover soup/stew is the ultimate convenience food.

He sautéed in the cast-iron skillet:  local ground beef, chopped onion and diced red peppers.  To a pot of boiling water, I added: a vegetable bouillon cube, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, a packet of rice and Cajun seasonings, and whatever other vegetables we had lying around.  Then Steven dumped the skillet’s contents into the pot and doused everything generously with curry powder (coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper) and a bit of salt.

This dish prompted me to ponder the possible etymological connections between curry the seasoning, and curry the idiom (that is, “to curry favor”), so I looked them up.

Alas, there seems to be no correlation, as the former curry comes from the Tamil (Dravidian) language in southern India and Sri Lanka, while the latter curry traces its roots from western Europe–English, Germanic, or French, according to different reference sources.  The hardcover dictionary I have open before me  (The American Heritage Dictionary I’ve trusted since I won it in a seventh grade spelling bee) cites Middle English and Anglo-Norman roots (ME currien < AN curreier, to arrange, curry.]

Online sources vary widely.  The “online dictionary of etymology,” apparently the hobby of a sole Pennsylvanian named Harper, traces Old French (Norman) and Germanic history :

curry favor Look up curry favor at
early 16c., altered by folk etymology from curry favel (c.1400) from O.Fr. correier fauvel “to be false, hypocritical,” lit. “to curry the chestnut horse,” which in medieval French allegories was a symbol of cunning and deceit. See curry (v.). O.Fr. fauvel is from a Germanic source and ultimately related to fallow (adj.); the sense here is entangled with that of similar-sounding O.Fr. favele “lying, deception,” from L. fabella, dim. of fabula (see fable).

The contradictions in these etymologies, English, Norman, French and Germanic, can perhaps be forgiven when one considers that the noun “Norman” may refer to any of the following:

1. A member of Scandinavian people who conquered Normandy in the 10th century. 2. A member of a people of Norman and French blood who conquered England in 1066. 3.A native or inhabitant of Normandy.

As you can see, words got around even back in those days.

An interesting podcast entry on the etymology of both kinds of curry can be found below, filling in some of the gaps on how horses, fallow fields, and to “curry favel” relate to each other:

In today’s usage, however, the connection between forms of curry is this:  when my husband makes curry, I find favor with him.

[*Notice:  After three straight meals of curry, we both smelled strongly of spices.  Could have been worse, I reckon; at least we didn’t smell like horses.]

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One Response to Curry F(l)avor

  1. Your husband is descended from Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons, so it all comes back around. 🙂

    Also: Do you think curry relates to “courier”? (ME currien < AN curreier, to arrange, curry.]

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