porridge

 

 

MEANING

 

a dish consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk

 

 

ORIGIN

 

The noun porridge is an alteration of pottage and had originally the same meaning: a thick soup made by stewing vegetables, herbs or meat, often thickened with barley, pulses, etc. The change to porridge was perhaps partly due to the influence of porray, which denotes a soup or broth usually made of leeks or peas. Via Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as poré and poree, porray is from post-classical Latin porrata, porata, from classical Latin porrum, leek. The noun pottage is from Old French potage, meaning literally that which is put into a pot.

 

The form porridge is first recorded in An introductorie for to lerne to rede, to pronounce and to speke Frenche trewly (circa 1533), a textbook written in the reign of Henry VIII by the musician and royal tutor Giles Duwes (died 1535) for “the Lady Mary of Englande”, Mary Stuart (1516-58). The following is from the chapter titled Another communication, where dyverse maner metes [= divers kinds of food] ben named, whiche is a right necessary waye for shortely to come to the Frenche speche, betwene the Lady Mary and her amener [= chaplain]:

Comment? est il sy tard. Certes je ne cuidoie point que la table fust couuerte ne la nappe mise, et uous aués desja mengé uostre potage.
What? is it so late. Trewly l thought nat that the borde was covered nor the clothe layde, and ye have alredy eaten your porage.

Thomas Raymond (circa 1610-1681) held the office of Keeper and Register of the Papers and Records of State. When he wrote his autobiography, pottage was still used interchangeably with porridge:

There was boyling on the fyer in my unkles chamber a pipkin of pease pottage, and a Lord comeing to him unexpectedly on the sudden about busines, with stifling aboute least the pipkin should be seene it was throwne downe, broke, and all the porridge aboute the chamber—a woefull disaster to my aunt for the losse of hir belly tymber, and to my unkle least the Lord should have taken us in our cookery and misfortune. But the Lord was encounterd before he could perceive the mischeife, a miscarriage that hath often made me laugh heartily.

The current sense of porridge is first recorded in A Bill of Fare, by William Cartwright (1611-43), poet, playwright, and Church of England clergyman:

Expect no strange, or puzzling Meat, no Pye
Built by Confusion, or Adultery
Of forced Nature; No mysterious dish
Requiring an Interpreter, no Fish
Found out by modern Luxury: Our Corse Board
Press’d with no spoyls of Elements, doth aford
Meat, like our Hunger, without Art, each Mess
Thus differing from it only, that ’t is less.
Imprimis [= in the first place] some Rice Porredge, sweet, and hot,
Three knobs of Sugar season the whole Pot.

The form pottage has been used in the sense of oatmeal porridge, and still is in Scotland. The Monthly Magazine, and British Register of March 1797 published the journal of a tour of England made by John Houseman, who wrote, when in Sheffield:

The oat-bread still used in the more northern parts of the west-riding, has disappeared here; and that made of flour has been substituted.—Oatmeal is, however, not unfrequently used in making pottage, among the lower classes.

 

One of the figurative meanings of porridge has been an idea, opinion, etc., without structure or substantial content. The Dissenters in particular applied the word to the Church of England liturgy set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. For instance, Giles Calfine published several pamphlets, among which A Messe of Pottage, Very well Seasoned and Crumbd. With Bread of Life, and easie to be digested. Against the contumelious slanderers of the Divine Service, terming it Porrage (1642); it thus begins:

I need not make an Appology to the ensuing Discourse; Tis well known to all honest and discreet Protestants, how basely our Service-Book is tearmed (by the name of Porrage, a name very frequent in uncivill mouthes) and trampled under foot by unreasonable men, that have neither Faith nor Charity.

This writer too uses pottage interchangeably with porridge:

If you knew but the right vertue of Pottage, you would not have tearmed the Common Prayer so, but your own Prayers.

The author of an article published in The Listener of 7th October 1965 used porridge in the sense of hotchpotch:

Of all the countries in the world today Brazil is easily the most heterogeneous. It is a unique porridge of races and nationalities—Negroes from Africa, Portuguese and Italians and Germans from Europe, Japanese and Chinese and Russians from Asia.

Paul Jackson thus mourned the loss of Canada’s soul in the Calgary Sun (Alberta) of 12th October 2004:

The truth is, Liberal prime ministers from Pierre Trudeau to Jean Chretien to Paul Martin have carved away our country’s soul. They have taken away any values our nation had, leaving us with a porridge of Lib-Left platitudes.
These are the people who have made our traditions and our emblems irrelevant. As someone pointed out when Dominion Day was changed to Canada Day, could you imagine any French man, woman or child allowing Bastille Day to be demeaned to France Day? The French would have rioted.

 

In British English, one of the figurative meanings of porridge, attested since the 1950s, is time spent in prison. It is probably an allusion to porridge regarded as prison diet; for example, on 11th September 1950, a certain Walter Poundall, who had not appeared to answer a summons for unlawfully selling plums from a hand-barrow in High Street, Nottingham, wrote to the magistrates:

I don’t suppose it will be very long before I’m eating porridge and passing the time on in the good old nick.

It has been said that this sense of porridge is perhaps also partly a pun on the earlier use of the noun stir in the sense of prison, or from the phrase to dish out the porridge or the gravy, meaning, of a judge, to award heavy sentences; in Lag’s Lexicon: A Comprehensive Dictionary and Encyclopædia of the English Prison of To-Day (1950), Paul Tempest wrote:

Gravy, dishing out the. During Quarter Sessions or Assizes, when a Judge is giving heavy sentences, he is spoken of as “dishing out the gravy (or porridge).” Thus, “Cor, he ain’t arf dishin’ aht the porridge.”

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