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Quirk of history

Pumpernickel, or pain pour Nicole?

Romans in Asterix: not paid in salt

Lots of people think the word “salary” comes from the Latin for “salt”, says Johnson in The Economist. Roman soldiers, so the story goes, were given an allowance of the seasoning. Alas, there’s no evidence whatsoever for this “folk etymology”. It’s the same for many supposed acronyms – the idea that, for example, two of our most common swear words derive from “Fornication Under Consent of the King” and “Ship High In Transit”. Likewise golf (“Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”), posh (“Port Out, Starboard Home”) and cop (“Constable On Patrol”).

Some believe marmalade was given to Mary, Queen of Scots by her French nurse when she was ill: “Marie est malade”. Then there’s the “tall tale” that pumpernickel bread got its name when Napoleon wanted a snack for his horse: “pain pour Nicole”. And no, Thomas Crapper didn’t invent the loo. He “was indeed an entrepreneur of toilets, but they (and the word crap) were around before he was born”.