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The Scrivener: The Great Australian Banger

Brian Barratt investigates a tasty subject – the banger.

More of Brian’s appetizing and satisfying words can be found by clicking on The Scrivener in the menu on this page. And do please visit his absorbing Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Barbecue was borrowed by the Spanish in the West Indies, around the end of the 17th century. It meant a framework of timber posts and cross-pieces. The framework could relate to a house, a bed, or a structure on which pieces of meat were placed for smoking. In the early 1700s, it came to mean a large outdoor party at which a whole carcase was roasted. By the 1930s, it referred to the sort of item we now call a barbecue.

The popular spelling ‘barbeque’ is totally incorrect. If this were a French word, which it is not, it would be pronounced ‘bar-BECK’. If it is to rhyme with barbecue, the spelling would be barbequeue. Not very encouraging for those who already have problems with spelling!

Sidney J.Baker does not even mention the word in The Australian Language (Angus & Robertson, 1945). Sorry, but it looks as though ‘the great Australian barbecue’ is a relatively recent myth.

Braaivleis, the South African equivalent meaning ‘grill flesh’, was borrowed by the British from Afrikaans, also around the 1930s.

Meat pie does not merit an etymological search, but it’s interesting to read Mrs Beeton’s instructions on how to make one. In the 1860s, a beef-steak pie for the family needed cooking for one and a half hours but a beef-steak and kidney pie needed four hours. They could be flavoured with oysters, mushrooms or minced onions. Suet, hard fat from around the kidneys, or lard, soft fat from a pig, could be used in making the crust. Mrs Beeton didn’t have to worry about saturated fats and cholesterol.

Sausage first appeared in about 1450 as sawsyge. It meant salted meat but there was also reference to ‘a pudding called a sawsege’. Mrs Beeton’s pork sausages 140 years ago contained pork fat and lean without skin or gristle; lean veal; beef suet; bread crumbs; lemon rind; nutmeg; sage leaves; pepper; savory; marjoram; and two teaspoons of salt for 30 sausages. Sounds tasty! Modern sausage makers might have overlooked the bits about gristle and salt.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces snags to the reference in Baker’s book (above), which seems to indicate that the word was first used in Australia. Banger as a term for sausage also originated in Australia. I reckon if you try cooking a sausage in a microwave oven, without first stabbing it thoroughly, you’ll understand why it’s a banger.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2003, 2007


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