Tigger is a little under the weather today and is staying at home. This means that we will not be visiting our Italian friends round the corner from where she works for our usual Friday omelette.
Sitting here thinking about that, I remembered that we were discussing omelettes the other day, omelette fans that we are, and fell to wondering where the word comes from. It’s a strange word, even admitting that it is obviously French, and doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with eggs.
The simplest explanation is that it comes from the word overmele, which was the name given by Marcus Gavius Apicius, a 1st-century Roman, to a dish made of eggs, honey and pepper, shown in one of his cookery books. On the face of it, this seems a quite plausible derivation.
Things are rarely that simple, of course, and if you prefer a more complicated etymology, try this one for size. According to this, we start with the Latin word lamina, meaning a thin plate (which I suppose omelettes resemble). The word had a diminutive form, lamella, meaning something like “little plate”, and this turns up in Medieval French, quite reasonably, as lemelle. This in turn becomes alemelle, for reasons best known to Medieval French speakers.
If you are a fruit lover, you will probably know that the round fruit we use to make marmalade with was originally a norange (c.f. modern Spanish naranja), which in popular speech became an orange. Look now at the French phrase la lemelle and you might be able to see how people confused it with l’alemelle, the latter meaning a knife or sword blade. When you think about how people often muddle up unusual words, you might not be surprised to find alemelle mutating into omelette, which it did by the 16th century.
I rather like Apicius and his overmele, to be honest, but it all hinges on the evidence that the etymologists can marshall in support of their respective theories. A nice project for a wet weekend, perhaps.
Either way, omelettes, made with free-range eggs, of course, are very enjoyable and we look forward to our weekly visit to the Italian cafe on Omelette Day. Not this week, however. Never mind, there will be other weeks and Tigger is already showing signs of recovery, though she is very tired and is resting. Let’s hope the weather will be fine this weekend so that we can complete her convalescence by making a pleasant little trip somewhere interesting.
We might even eat the odd omelette.