Philology Phriday–Plate

17 Sep

This morning and near-noontime, I’ve been thinking a lot about the enormous meal I’ll be eating with friends and acquaintances, prepped by fellow gaucher Brent B (also known as the Mysterious B)–of bready things, pasta things, saucy things, steamy things. Of forks and spoons. And ladles, and knives, and bowls. And plates. Plates of foods piled high only to be dug deep into.

Speaking of piling high, the history of the word plate (and its near relatives in other languages) is rampacked with all sorts of uses, each of different tastes and created in different contexts. In its root form, the Anglo-Norman slash Old French feminine “plate” meant a metal ingot–a metal cast into a shape suitable for further processing. An ingot! How amorphous, and gloriously so, is that? Over the past fourteen (14) weeks, I’ve yet to find a word whose beginnings actually denote something akin to the use of the word itself.

The word plate in its first use was very much a cast that would be shaped a multitude of ways. The rappings and molding ovens of European culture fit the word to a variety of uses. I offer you now a buffet for your mind’s nourishment:

In the 12th century, “plate” denoted a defense for the torso area made of many thin, flat pieces of metal riveted together to form a prototype for armor. Another pair to this martial affectation is the Middle French use of plate impressed upon the flat end of a sword.

The second half of the 14th century saw a strange amalgamation to denote a flat pastry. I can only wonder why terms for war and baking could be conflated.

The last use that I found interesting comes from the 17th century, when “platte” denoted flat land, land that I’m guessing was probably conquered either by swords with flat sides wielded by warriors covered in strong though thin pieces of sheet metal riveted together like patchwork quilts, or by militant confectioners needing no plates, only plates, to take the “platte”.


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