Devil’s fart bread

Bread is pretty important. Everyday, Christians around the world pray to be given their daily bread. Celebrating Eucharist sees the breaking of bread, which, according to the doctrine of transubstantiation (or real presence), is the “bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ”.

The word ‘bread’ is used over 350 times in the King James Bible, beginning with references in Genesis:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.”

and all the way through to 2 Thessalonians:

“Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”

previous blog covered the etymological origins of the word ‘lord’ deriving from bread. Bread’s role in language is thus central to both the spiritual and temporal realms.

Given its vital life giving and life affirming role, some varieties of bread have ended up with decidedly odd names and etymologies:

  • Ciabatta – literally means an old, down at heel shoe or a slipper.
  • Foccacia – derives from focus – classical Latin for ‘centre’ or ‘hearth’ – the bread’s name comes from panis focacius – bread baked in the hearth.
  • Pumpernickel – fancy a slice of fart bread? Or the devil’s fart bread? This hard to digest, wind inducing rye bread from Westphalia has such an odd name that it has a wide range of fake etymologies (including the story that a Frenchman contemptuously declared it was only fit for his horse or servant called Nichol – ‘c’est pain pour Nichol’ or ‘c’est bon pour Nichol’. The true etymology is connected to its indigestibility pumpern is an old German word for fart and Nickel is similar to old Nick, or Satan.

  • Scone – I like the idea that scone comes from the Gaelic word sgonn meaning a shapeless mass or large mouthful. But it is more likely to come from Dutch schoonbrood (pure or white bread) and/or the German Schönbrot (fine bread).
  • Naan – naan comes from the old Persian word nagna meaning naked or bare. It probably derives from naan bread being cooked uncovered in an oven.
  • Pretzel – comes from the German word for a ring or a band, and describes this bread’s circular cross banded ring shape.
  • Bagel – derives from the German word for a bracelet.
  • Mantou – there is a story that the word for this Chinese steamed bread originated from the identically written and pitched word mántóu meaning “barbarian’s head”.