Etymology of the Day: Omelette

Now that Easter’s passed, what to do with all of those eggs? If they’re not chocolate or hard-boiled, whip up an omelette. You can throw in some mushrooms, peppers, cheese, and perhaps finish it off, etymologically speaking, with just a skosh of…knife?

omelette-992951_1920.jpg
Mmm…knifey. (Pixabay)

Omelette

The word omelette, also spelled omelet, is quite the scrambled word. First served up in English in the early 1600s, omelette comes directly from the French omelette. The French omelette derives from an older form, amelette, whose L and M were flipped (in a process called metathesis) from alemette. Alemette, in turn, is from lemelle, meaning “little blade.”

The flat egg dish, so it goes, was thought to resemble the blade of a small knife or sword. And you thought you made a killer omelette.

French speakers probably mistook la lemelle, “the blade,” as l’alemelle, as if the word started with A as opposed to L. So, today, “the omelette” in French, or l’omelette, literally means “the the little blade.”

The French lemelle, in turn, comes from the Latin lamella, a diminutive of lamina, which named various things with thin, flat layers like “plate,” “blade,” or “money,” given the shape of coins. English rolled out lamina into the verb laminate, which meant “to beat into thin layers” in the 17th century before taking the 20th century synthesized its various modern meanings. 

m ∫ r ∫

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3 thoughts on “Etymology of the Day: Omelette

  1. How interesting, especially metathesis – is this why butterflies are not flutterbys? Also, I am curious as to the difference between omelet vs omelette (other than the noun gender) – any thoughts, John?

    Like

    1. Butterflies > flutterbys would be what’s called a “spoonerism,” which is a different process featuring a sound swap. As for “omelet” vs “omelette,” I believe the former is just a simplification of the original French spelling.

      Liked by 1 person

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