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Wordy Weekly XXVIII - Something Fishy

This week, we are going to look at the linguistic journey of a familiar modern phrase, a favourite dish actually, from its Latin original. Hands up if you are a fan of ‘fruit de mer’. Personally, I love it, but I am happy to share as I don’t like to be shellfish! Okay, moving swiftly on. What on earth has this go to do with Classics. Well, you have probably guessed that the two words come originally from Latin. And, we have some evidence that the Romans also liked their seafood. It was in fact my dear husband who made this connection. I asked him for suggestions for this week’s Wordy Weekly, and he suggested looking at the origins of the name of one our favourite dishes and he considered this relevant in a Classical context, having been shown (by me) a beautiful mosaic with exquisite and very accurate depictions of seafood. Here it is:[1]

My first encounter with this beautiful piece was on the cover of Book I of the old edition of the wonderful Oxford Latin Course by Balme and Morwood.

Anyway, to the terms. We have fruits de mer in French, frutti del mare in Italian. mer and mare are quite obvious. They come from the Latin mare a wonderful example of a third declension neuter noun (can you sense the irony in my words?).

fruit and frutti are a little less obvious. The Latin is also the original of fruto in Spanish, Frucht in German, and Swedish frukt. Ultimately, it comes from the following Latin verb:

fruor, frui, fructus sum - enjoy, take pleasure

From there comes the cognate noun fructus, meaning ‘an enjoyment, a delight, produce’. Produce is a delight, something grown that gives enjoyment. So very charmingly, ‘fruits of the sea’, are the ‘delights of the sea’: fructus maris.

The Romans loved their seafood. Mosaics show us they enjoyed their mackerel, lobster, squid, and also bass. Please see the following website for a lovely recipe for seasoned mussels (seasoned muscles is something different, think Arnie) and the famous Roman fish sauce, for which Naples, and indeed Pompeii itself, were renowned:

So, put on your toga, grab a cooking pot, and off you go.

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