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Culinary verbs in Middle English


Magdalena Bator

This study examines the range of culinary verbs found in the English culinary recipes of the 14 th and 15 th centuries. Altogether over 1500 recipes have been collected and over 100 verbs were selected for the research. They have been divided into three major semantic groups, i.e. verbs of cooking, cutting, and preparing. The analysis comprises such aspects as the origin of the verbs, rivalry of synonyms, context of usage and other criteria.
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Chapter One: Introduction


The earliest traces of English food vocabulary are probably those in Alexander Neckam’s De Utensilibus, from the late 12th century. It was written in Latin and contained a few Anglo-Norman and English glosses. The recipes included there can also be found in fuller forms in some later collections. Our knowledge of the early Middle English food traditions comes from literary descriptions of feasts and banquets; however, they are not very helpful when it comes to linguistic research, as they are usually very scarce in detail and limited to the enumeration of the meats served, telling us nothing about the way of cooking or serving them. The earliest detailed menu description, Treatise of Walter of Bibbesworth, comes from the late 13th century. However, it was written in Anglo-Norman, thus, is of little use for a comprehensive study of the English culinary language of the period.1

Another source of information concerning the food eaten at particular periods is narrative texts and verse, e.g., Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales or Morte d’Arthur. However, as noticed by Shaw (1991: 8), these usually show extremes (either excess or default, gluttony or drunkenness, and frugality or starvation), and lead to moralizing, preaching or ridiculing rather than a realistic presentation of food habits of the time. Shaw enumerates the following reasons for writing about food and drink in the Medieval times:

(…) for moralizing purposes, for characterization purposes, to illustrate and exult the wealth of a character or a social class, to satirise a determined...

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