Twenty-First Day of Christmas Etymologies!

Good evening all, and happy Saturday on what for many of us is the beginning of the Christmas holiday season!

Today’s word is mince pie!

Etymology of mince pie

‘Mince pie’ as in the thing we eat at Christmas first enters the written record at the start of the 17th century (for the record, that’s when James I was on the throne and one year before the Gunpowder Plot)

Despite what you might think, the origin of the type of mince pie you eat at Christmas is not just ‘mince’ + ‘pie’.

Instead, the mince element comes from ‘mincemeat’. This in turn is not ground meat of the sort you’d have in your spag bol, but is this:

“The mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, suet, apples, almonds, candied peel, spices, etc., and originally meat chopped small, typically baked in pastry …”

“mincemeat, n.”. OED Online. December 2018. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/118720? (accessed December 22, 2018).

As to how on earth mincemeat came to mean fruit, I’m not sure. I suspect it had something to do with the fact that the ingredients were ‘minced’, that is, cut very finely???

Here’s a nice blog on mince pies from the English Heritage site! Their rationale is that there used to be meat in the mince pies alongside the fruit, right up until just over a hundred years ago.

However, BACK TO THE WORD HISTORY which I love so much …

Mincemeat does obviously come from ‘minced meat’. Sooo …

  • ‘Minced’ first appears as an adjective (a describing word) in the late 14th century. As a verb “to mince’, it’s a pretty straightforward loan from Old French/Norman as mincer, to cut up (food) into small pieces’.
  • Meat is a word of Germanic origin (so languages like German, Icelandic etc have related words), which in Old English was mæte. Originally it meant food of all types, not just animal flesh.

(‘Meat’ as we know it today was often called flesh, hence lines like in the carol Good King Wenceslas, “Bring me flesh and bring me wine.” Flesh was also an Old English word.)


Thank you for reading, everyone, and I’ll see you tomorrow, once I’ve finished frantically wrapping presents …

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Twenty-First Day of Christmas Etymologies!

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