I begin by admitting to weariness with so much language that comes to our eyes and ears from the electronic world; and this weariness affects the way I write, which is to take dictation from an inner voice. And lately that voice is tired. Yet sometimes playing with one word can restore my energy for language. That’s what happened three weeks ago when I could not find a way to unravel my thoughts (see the last three blogs for what I mean). At some point during a long afternoon, my mind in a muddle, I said aloud, “What a hodgepodge!”
The writer in me asked, “What’s the source of hodgepodge.”
That’s when I looked at a shelf beneath my printer where I keep dictionaries. First, I opened the Oxford American Dictionary, one compiled by noteworthy writers on both sides of the Atlantic. Two contributors were the late David Foster Wallace and the U.K.’s Zadie Smith. In the OAD under Hodge Podge (two words) I saw jumble, mishmash, and a word I did not know, gallimaufry.
Next, I opened my two-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and discovered that gallimaufrey comes from the old French, calimafrée, its origin unknown, according to the OED, which defined hodgepodge as a variety of hotchpotch or hodchpot, and is a “clumsy mixture of ingredients.”
As someone who does not know French, I asked myself what ‘hodgepodge” would be in Spanish. Mescolanza. Que bueno! The sound mimics the meaning: a mixture, a jumble, a hodge podge (written as two words). Putting away my Simon and Schuster International Dictionary (a gift from the State Department for withstanding 32 weeks of Spanish!), I opened a thick Synonym Finder and found 21 words for hodgepodge, including gallimaufrey. I cannot see this word without an image. My quirky definition is, “a way to fry fish in a boat’s galley.”
Por fin (at last), I opened a dictionary that I recommend to students and would-be-writers. The Flip Dictionary has sixteen words for hodgepodge, including Katzenjammer, salmagundi, and olio. The latter word made me think of portfolio, and folio made me think of Willy the Shake, as I call him. That’s when I pulled Shakespeare’s Words from the shelf. This over two-inch thick book has no page numbers, and no hodgepodge, either one word or two. But there was hodge-pudding! What character in Shakespeare might have used this word? None other than corpulent Falstaff, ever concerned with food and lust.
The L word led me to The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Might hodgepodge have a risqué meaning? No, only one dull definition: “irregular mixture of numerous things.”
Yet playing with the word pushed me through the stasis that afternoon of not having a voice with which to write. And next week? A Frenchman, Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) and his concerns over 70 years ago, in the 1950s, about machines and technology.