In Food and drink, History, Nature, Sport, Words

Sprinkling salt

Season’s greetings!

Something you might contemplate, as you’re grinding salt onto your sprouts and generously peppering your pigs in blankets (or whatever the vegan equivalent may be), is how we came to use the same word for Christmas time as we do for condiments.

The word ‘season’ originally meant ‘to sow’ and referred specifically to spring – the sowing time. In fact, we called it ‘the season’ before we called it ‘spring’. Because spring was the appropriate time for sowing seeds, the word ‘season’ began to be used for other times that were appropriate for other stuff: the football season, the festive season, silly season etc.

The verb ‘to season’ was developed in France before it was deemed worthy of export to Britain. With the sort of logic for which the French are renowned, they must have thought, “If there can be a sowing season, surely there can be a ripening season,” and so they turned it into a verb, ‘assaisonner’, meaning ‘to ripen’. This arrived in English at pretty much the same time as the noun, so we knocked the ‘a’ off and got two for the price of one. Lovely jubbly.

As ripening adds flavour, ‘season’ became the word for adding flavour or, in the case of wood, making ready for use. And then, in the 16th century, they started using the word to mean ‘copulate with’, presumably from the notion of an animal being ‘in season’ when fertile. Either that or the French had been back.

Joyeux Noël à tout le monde. And don’t overdo the seasoning!

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