hummus

I couldn’t quite believe what I had just read. It wasn’t until 1955 that “hummus” first appeared in English? I was willing to believe the BBC piece on the state-of-hummus in the UK in terms of its modern trendiness, massively growing sales, first appearance in Waitrose in the late ’80s, M&S in 1990. Britain eats 12,000 tons of hummus each year these days, apparently.

1955 just seems so recent for a word import when guidebooks or anthropological studies might have been using it sooner than Elizabeth David in Mediterranean Food. But there it was in the OED, just as the article’s author claimed.

I went looking, but every hit on Google’s ngram viewer for before 1955 for “houmous” seems to be an OCR error for “burnous”. Eleanor Cecilia Donnelly’s 1896 book A Tuscan Magdalen didn’t mean what we would when she was mis-OCR’d as writing, “‘Prostrate thyself in this lone desert place, And in thy houmous muffle up thy face?’”

“mashed chick peas” got me further, but nothing quickly which wasn’t from Latin America or was a pottage. Broadening the scope, there are “chich” pea recipes from the fourteenth century; they’re used in The Forme of Cury. Around the same time, the Wycliffe Bible offers this translation of 2 Sam. xvii. 28 “Fried chichis [Vulg. frixum cicer], and hony.”

But coming back to the main point – the OED sometimes misses out on still-earlier references to something. But in this case, it looks like they’re right after all. “Hummus” was first published in English in 1955 by Elizbaeth David.


2 Responses to “hummus”

  1. schrisomalis says:

    Not quite sure about that: I have found several 19th century references for ‘hummus’ referring to peas using the keyword combination: hummus peas. The earliest I’ve found is from 1856, in ‘Biblical researches in Palestine’ in a table of agricultural produce in which it is described as “Hummus (chick peas)”. Several other 19th century references, many italicized to indicate it is a foreignism, of course, but others, like Burton in ‘The land of Midian (revisited)’, 1879, not italicized.

  2. sworthen says:

    I didn’t want it to be true: it seemed far too improbable that it would be so late. I’m delighted to know that it probably isn’t.

    Assuming, of course, that hummus referred to exactly the same dish in the 19th century in Turkey that it does today. That’s the one caveat I can think of for consciously (as opposed to accidentally) leaving out references like that which make it look as if hummus is synonymous with chick peas.

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