omelette

Today’s exciting realization is that, etymologically, “laminate” is related to “omelette”. The English comes from Middle French, which comes from the Old French lemelle, a thin, flat blade. (OED)

The prefix derives from the definite article, one of many reasons – in addition to lack of standardized spelling – for the many early variants in Middle French as well as in earlier English versions. My favorite of these is “an amulet of eggs”, a moderately common seventeenth-century spelling. A recipe for this, from The Compleat Housewife (1727) is reproduced in the Hess’s Taste of America. (74-5) The recipe calls for thinning the eggs with meat gravy, and finishing it with a squeeze of lemon or Seville orange.

Lemelle, in turn, derives ultimately from the Latin lamella, the diminutive of lamina, meaning a thin slices or leaf – from which, more obviously, comes laminate.

There need not be a specific label for a dish to exist, of course. In Apicius, which used to be the world’s oldest cookbook (c. first century CE) until the much earlier Babylonian tablets were found (from c. 1600 BCE), there’s a recipe for a “patina versatilis vice dulci”, or, “a sweet omelette-style patina” which, as the editors observe in a footnotes, “seems to be an omelette in all but name”. (Grocock & Grainger, 186-7)


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*© S. Worthen 2009