Wednesday, 6 January 2010

smorgasbord and gonzo

smorgasbord is borrowed from Swedish smörgåsbord: smörgås "(slice of) bread and butter" plus bord "table" (cognate with board). smörgås is composed of smör "butter" (cognate with smear) and gås "goose, lump of butter".

gås is from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰans- "goose", as in English goose, Latin ānser, Greek χήν. The Old High German word was gans, and the AHD tells us that this word or a closely related word was borrowed into Spanish as ganso "goose, fool". The OED tells us that this is a possible source of gonzo. It could also be from Italian gonzo "foolish"; I don't know if this is related to the Spanish word.

This quote from the OED gives some clues to gonzo's origin:

1972 in R. Pollack Stop Presses (1975) 184, I ask Hunter to explain... Just what is Gonzo Journalism?.. ‘Gonzo all started with Bill Cardosa,..after I wrote the Kentucky Derby piece for Scanlan's..the first time I realized you could write different. And..I got this note from Cardosa saying, ‘That was pure Gonzo journalism!’.. Some Boston word for weird, bizarre.’


John Cowan said...

So presumably smörgås formerly meant not butter but goose grease (as my German-speaking mother cheerfully called it in English)?

The name Cardosa suggests a Portuguese origin.

goofy said...

yeah, presumably it used to mean "goose grease".

Daniel Eriksson said...

According to the Swedish counterpart of the OED, Svenska Akademiens ordbok, the word for 'goose' was used metaphorically of butter lumps, since they float on top of the milk in the butter churn (GÅS, SAOB).

goofy said...

Thanks Daniel!

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Would you happen to know the etymology of the Swedish word "gammal", meaning "old"?

Allegedly, it may be related to the Proto-Indo-European word *ǵʰéi-mn̥- (“winter”), which is almost identical to the modern Greek word for winter.

goofy said...

The Svenska Akademiens ordbok seems to connect gammal to Greek χιών, Latin hiems, which means it would be derived from PIE *ǵʰéi-mn̥-. But Pokorny says this is doubtful.