Thursday, 25 September 2014

What's 'marmalade', Grandma?

What's 'marmalade', Grandma?

About a month ago, I heard a piece on the radio about words that were falling out of fashion – one of those stories that gets recycled each year when there's nothing much to write about – and was alarmed to hear that one of them was 'marmalade'.

Apparently, to use 'marvellous', 'fortnight' or 'marmalade' in everyday speech pegs you as an old-fashioned sort of cove best relegated to the pages of a P G Wodehouse novel. Or to a script by Julian Fellowes (though 'fortnight' might be a bit modern for him).

I am aghast. In a similar piece in the Guardian in August 2011 (See? It's always in August, nothing else happening out there), the supposedly endangered words included things such as 'aerodrome', 'charabanc' and 'wittol' (a man who tolerates his wife's adultery, apparently a word that is no longer needed). These I understand. We can live without the likes of 'cyclogiro' and 'drysalter' most of the time.

But 'marmalade'? What is going on?

Still, this perennial subject did give some rather bored journalists something amusing to do while everyone else was on their summer holidays. I rather liked this piece in the Guardian, particularly the bit about 'marvellous' at the end. It is essential to the English language because it is such a joy when used sarcastically, and you can't do the same with 'awesome'. Try it. It's just not the same.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The English Preserve

The English Preserve

In The English Companion by Godfrey Smith, a compendium of all the things that we love best,  the entry for marmalade is sandwiched between 'Marks & Spencer' and 'marques' (as in posh car brands). It does contain one misapprehension, namely that the Scots invented marmalade (they didn't). But putting that aside, his short essay on marmalade is good fun, particularly the following three points:

1: 'It does not taste right on anything but toast, and at any time but breakfast.'
Quite. 

2: 'To take it with butter as well is a comparatively modern function of affluence.' 
An earlier post - here - agrees with this (see second extract - and, while you're at it, see AA Milne's 'The King's Breakfast' where the king is offered marmalade instead of butter), though I can't imagine it myself. The creaminess of the butter is essential as a counterpoint to the tart oranges. Still, it takes all sorts.

3. 'Marmalade still conveys the very faint sense of privilege at a price everyone can afford and remains the bittersweet debut to the English day.'
I'd never thought of marmalade as being simultaneously posh and accessible, but I think he's right.