Thursday, 10 June 2010

Lord and Lady Panivorous

Here's a splendidly useful word: panivorous.

It means "that eats or lives on bread" (Latin panus) and should therefore be wildly applicable. Yet it seems only ever to have been used once, in 1845, by Mrs Catherine Gore who wrote of a man that he was: "A boulanger in the panivorous kingdom of France."

We are all panivorous. Stand outside any office block at lunchtime and watch the panivorous staff scuttle back from the sandwich shop leaving, like Hansel and Gretel, a trail of crumbs.

There's the simple bread that we eat; there's the religious "daily bread"; and there are a hundred and one hidden etymologies for when we eat our words.

The Old English word for bread was hlaf, from which we get loaf; and the old English division of labour was that women made bread and men guarded it. The woman was therefore the hlaf-dige and the man was the hlaf-ward.

Hlafward and Hlafdige

Hlaford and Hlafdi

Lavord and Lavedi

Lord and Lady

And when the lord and lady finally sit down and devour the bread, they become companions; because a companion is someone you eat bread with in the same way that a mate is somebody who shares your meat.

Had enough? I don't care. The old word for beg was briber, and the way to get rid of a beggar was to palm him off with a morsel of bread called a bribe, hence bribe. Ciabatta is Italian for carpet slipper because that's what the bread resembles, just as baguette means stick. And gritty was not first applied either to dramas or to roads but to dear old, mere old bread.

'So cast your bread upon the waters,' as a friend mine likes to say. 'You never know, it might come back as smoked salmon sandwiches.'

These do not count as ciabattas


  1. Did you ever live in our house, secretly, in the bread cupboard, as a mouse perhaps? I swear that is a conversation Beloved and I have had in the past.
    Ours usually start with one of us saying: "It says 'ere . . . . and go via etymology, history, geography to anything else relevant and irrelevant, until the dog is fully buried under a pile of books. And he's a big dog.

  2. I was young. I needed the cheese.

  3. This is truly useful and delightful. When the weather turns, I become a bread-baking demon, inflicting loaf after loaf of sourdough and dozens of various rolls onto my loved ones and neighbors until they are reduced to ravening panivores.

  4. You are therefore a perfect lady.

  5. I am never going to feel quite the same about eating ciabatta.

  6. The photo of sculpted slippers brings to mind cheesy feet...?! Yuk!

  7. Oh excellent! A word that will make starving through the recession more romantic.