Swiss rolls

It’s a rainy day today and I’m having a break drinking Earl Grey with a slice of chocolate Swiss roll. I love the BBC show The Great British Bake Off, so inspired by their Swiss Rolls last week I made one for myself on the weekend (if you want to see my post about it, you can on my crafting and baking blog here). I was going to write a little post on baking word etymologies, but then realised how many words just the Swiss roll has to describe it in English.

My first attempt at a chocolate Swiss roll

My first attempt at a chocolate Swiss roll

The name Swiss roll has its first recorded use in 1897 and the name might have originated in England. It’s an odd name choice as the Swiss roll isn’t from Switzerland. The OED describes it as “a ‘sweet’ consisting of sponge cake rolled up with a layer of jam”, although I’d probably use it to describe any sweet sponge roll around a filling and a search online seems to confirm this more general use.

The oldest name I could find for it in English is roulade, which was first recorded in English in 1702 and came into the language from French. This is a more general term and refers to savoury and sweet rolls. Apparently it was originally filled with meat.

If a Swiss roll is filled with jam I grow up calling it a (jam) roly-poly. But it seems that this term specifically refers to rolls made of suet and served hot. Roly-poly has its first recorded use in 1821 and according to the OED is also in extended use for other sorts of filling.

The word has other meanings, such as used to describe a plump person. While I imagine the pudding’s name came from the way it’s made by rolling up a filling, I’d quite like to think it was called roly-poly because of its satisfactory plump appearance! The roly part of the word likely comes from the verb to roll, meaning to sway. Poly doesn’t seem to have an inherent meaning and the OED says that apparently roly-poly seems to be formed from a reduplication of roll (with the -y suffix) with a p substituting for the r. In all the historical spelling variants listed (rowle-powle, roley-poley, etc) roly and poly are spelt the same except for the initial consonant. However the OED notes that in the first sense of roly-poly (a now obsolete meaning referring to a rascal) poly could come from the word poll (the part of the head on which the hair grows).

In America a Swiss roll seems to be commonly called a jelly roll. This term dates from at least 1895 – around the same time as Swiss roll – and is still used in America. Jelly roll is also now sexual slang, apparently. I’m guessing that the term jelly roll comes from the common jam filling, jelly being the American term for jam.

If made from chocolate and specifically eaten near Christmas it can be called a Yule log, whether decorated like a log or not. I’d also know it as a Bûche de Noël.

In this list there seems to be French-English alternatives: Swiss roll/roulade, Yule log/Bûche de Noël. I once talked to a French woman about what we traditionally ate at Christmas in our countries. She referred to something she said translated as ‘English cake’ (or something similar) and described it as a Swiss roll. I can’t seem to find anything about this online so I’m not sure if we’d become lost in translation, but I’d like to find out if this was true. With our borrowed French terms it would be strange if in France they actually called it something else!


New words added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Okay, well not new-new, this is the list of words added in June, but it is the first time I’ve seen it. There are a few words in the list I found interesting, some vulgar, some not. Here I ramble about six of them:

geekery, n. – while the original sense (bizarre acts preformed by a carnival geek) is recorded as being in use since 1947, I imagine that this word has only now just been added because of the rise of ‘geek culture’. They define it as actions typical of geeks: an unfashionable person with an obsessive hobby. I think that the meaning of ‘geek’ is so tied up with people’s  connotations about it that it seems hard to properly define.

headfucking n. – this shows how flexible the word ‘fuck’ is. While not unheard of I thought it was interesting that a word ending with an ‘-ing’ suffix has become a noun.

smeg, n. (and int.) – added over twenty years after it made its way into popular culture by Red Dwarf! Defined as ‘a general expletive’.

young adult, n. and adj. – recorded as being used from 1762, but I guess it’s only recently that they’ve decided to class it as one word instead of just having ‘young’ modifying ‘adult’. I would love to hear the decision making process behind a choice like this: when two words collocate so closely that they become one.

trans- prefixed words such as ‘transperson’ and ‘transphobia’ –  out of all of the words on the list I am most surprised that these have only just been added! ‘transexual’ was added to the OED in 1986 and I had just assumed that related ‘trans-‘ prefixed words would have been added already too. Interestingly it seems that ‘cissexual’ isn’t even in the OED yet, I wonder how long that will take to get an entry?

heart-stopper, n. – I just thought that this was a cute description of someone who makes your heart jump a beat! Seems like it should be a far older term than only having the first recorded use in 1940.


Breakfast words from a book I was given: The Horologicon

I saw my little cousin on the weekend (okay, he isn’t that little any more, he’s at university, but he’ll always kinda be my little cousin), and he gave me a (late) Christmas present. It’s awesome: it’s The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth. A great choice of present for me and something I wouldn’t have bought for myself.

The book gives you unusual words on the theme of the time of day that you might use them. I’ve been a little bit like a ten year old child with a book of facts telling everyone about a word I’ve just learnt whether they care or not. I’m pretty sure I’m boring people, but they’re too polite to say. But, unlike them if anyone reading doesn’t want to join in my excitement of learning unusual words, stop reading now.

I LOVE breakfast and seeing as it’s the morning  I felt a couple of breakfasty words were in order:

jenticulate, verb: a (now obsolete) way of saying to eat your breakfast. As an aside, I usually say ‘breakfasting’ which the OED tells me can be used as a noun (not a verb as I’m using it).

skeuomorph, noun: a technical limitation that’s deliberately imitated, such as the tiny too-small-to-use handles on tea cups. The other example given was the fake click on a digital camera. I’ve been trying to think of others, but the only other example I can think of are triglyphs (a stone architectural decoration thought to originate from when wooden beams would have been used), but I’m sure there are loads more.

pingle, verb: (Northern dialect) to pick and nibble at your food without appetite. Seems as though it’s related to meaning ‘toil’ or ‘hard work’.

opsony (plural = opsonia), noun: (obsolete) any food eaten with bread. I’m not sure sure how you might use this is a sentence? “The opsonia available are salad, cheese and picked onions”?

I won’t list more in case I get carried away! The book could do with telling you more about the etymology of the words it mentions as it’s a bit sparse on that, but it’s got some interesting words, the cover is lovely and it’s the perfect size to just pick up and dip into. I’d consider buying his previous book The Etymologicon. I don’t own many books on language other than heavy textbooks so I might check out more in this area.