Today’s Cured Meats Etymologies – Potato Salad Not Included

salumeriaSome of these word origins will be obvious to the native speaker, but I’d never really given much thought to them until today, as I was eating prosciutto and mortadella, natch. If you like knowing where words come from but not where meat comes from, you may struggle with whether to continue reading.

Prosciutto, that (in my opinion) delicious dry, cured ham from the pig’s hind leg or thigh, derives its name from the Latin pro (before) + exuctus (to suck out the moisture, i.e. dry). In Portuguese they call it presunto which derives from the same root.

Soppressata is an easy one – it’s an obvious cognate for “suppressed,” or as the local salumeria might simply say, pressed – another part of the cold cut process.

Mortadella always sounded to me like something “of the dead” (morta). But most sources I’ve found say it’s derived from the Latin murtatum, which was sausage seasoned with myrtle berries.

Sausage itself – salsiccia in Italian – comes from Vulgar Latin and means “seasoned with salt.” Pancetta (bacon) is derived from pancia, meaning “belly” (think “paunch” in English).

Capicola comes from the head and neck and its name is a literal reflection of that. Capo = head, and collo = neck. If you’ve ever watched The Sopranos I’m sure you’ve heard the Jersey wiseguys’ pronunciation that sounds like “gabagool.” Or better yet, here’s Michael Scott of The Office giving it a try.

BONUS: Charcuterie, as shown on the sign in the photo at the top of this post, is of course French. Char or chair in today’s French is “flesh,” and cuite is “cooked.” In their countries of origin these words spell out the naked truth about meat, but I suppose in America if we use a romance language, it helps to distract from the fact that we’re dining on cooked flesh.

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