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The wonderful wormholes of words - Waffle

"noun - (1) kind of batter-cake, baked crisp in irons and served hot; (2) a weave of cloth.

verb - (1) to yelp, bark (1690s); (2) talk foolishly (c1700); (3) to vacillate, equivocate; (4) waff - act of waving

See also - waft, weave, wafer" Etymonline (and also gaff, gaffe, to forget)

"To waffle - Someone who waffles now talks on and on in a vague or trivial way." Oxford Reference

I have never been a very organised writer. I waffle. At the foot of the second page - note - the second page - of one of my university essays for the English half of my degree, my tutor - a Mr. or Dr. Harvey - we just called him Harvey - wrote "all very interesting but you haven't said anything yet." Apart from feeling somewhat mortified, I think I was also a little encouraged by the use of the word 'interesting'.

Today I was going to write about actual waffles - here's a Bill Granger example - though I may have done this before. I have no idea why I thought of waffles, but it made me think of waffling - closely related to rambling but from a completely different etymological source. I even thought of the vaguely snappy title Waffling about waffles - not original I discovered - of course - it's been done before.

Anyway I am interested in words. So much so that I sometimes wish I had done a degree in linguistics. So I looked up the etymology of waffle and opened up a complete universe of connections and changes. A wormhole. So I'm diving in.

There is a very lengthy article on Wikipedia about waffles - the food - and this is what got me going on words. There is a huge amount of historical and foodie information in this article. Obviously lots of people have poured their expertise into it, so I'll just pick out the bits that interested me.

Beginning with the history of waffles - which is where I make my first deviation. Waffles originated in Greece with the obelios - a kind of flour and water cake which was cooked between two metal plates. Obelios, changed into Latin oblata from which one of its meanings became 'offering' and eventually 'host' - in the ecclesiastical sense. And at communion you have the communion wafers (note the word wafer) - below is a fer à hosties and on the right a moule à oublies. Sort of the same thing except that unlike the 'proper' communion wafers they are larger, round and not as religiously decorated. From these descended the waffle.

Now in French the verb oublier which must come from the same source word surely, means to forget. A somewhat different meaning. And note that the English word wafer has snuck in too. So before we have got to waffle we have had host, oblate - look at the shape of the religious one - and forget - as well as wafer.

Religion sort of done. Before we leave it though below are what are believed to be the first paintings of waffles - they are now called waffles - from Dutch wafel which comes form Mid-dutch wafele, which probably comes from the French walfre - itself from the Frankish wafla which means honeycomb or cake. Put them together and what have you got? A waffle - a kind of cake looking a bit like modern-day waffles. The painting is by Bruegel - dated 1559 and it's part of a large painting called The Fight between Carnival and Lent. On the left of the painting are scenes representing Carnival and on the right Lent. The waffles of course are on the Carnival side, for by now we have the addition of honey and other sweet things such as orange flower water, brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders. Religious symbolism going on here - there is gambling involved I think - and is the guy on the left somehow connected to the devil? The fat man in the right-hand picture is apparently Carnival.

Another diversion done.

And here's another aside - this time from me because I can't find an answer to this one. The word waffle has very many forms in the European languages - one of which is gauffre (French) - which to me seems to have a connection to the English words, gaffe, gaff and gaffer - all of which are different to each other anyway. But maybe they come from elsewhere. A similar sounding word meaning something completely different? Interesting in itself.

Then there's the English word waffle. Where does that come from? Well from the same sources, but also it seems the word was used in provincial England and Scotland to mean to yelp or bark - well there it was 'waff' - which, you have to say sounds a bit like a dog barking. But to waff also means to wave, and from there we go to waft. Well I suppose you could connect somehow to the delicious smell of waffles doused with maple syrup in the air.

Waft? What about weft? And weave? And there is indeed one connection here. For there is a kind of weave called waffle, which is sometimes called honeycomb cloth - so you are back to the Frankish word wafla meaning honeycomb or cake.

I will jump over a whole lot of other culinary history as described in the Wikipedia article, merely noting that the yeast and the waffle iron as we know it today came to be the norm. Usually square but these days you can find them in all kinds of different shapes.

Waffles themselves have spread around the world and evolved into a whole host of things, from the classic Liège waffles on the left, through simple things like waffle cones to somewhat revolting waffle dogs, and the COVID sensation - croffles which is a marriage between a croissant and a waffle. And yet another new word for the world. At its simplest, for a croffle, you get some puff pastry, roll it into croissant shape, sprinkle with sugar - you can even stuff it before rolling - and cook in a waffle iron. Invented, they say, in Dublin but given to the world by South Korea. Soft and crunchy all at the same time.

Can I waffle on some more? Possibly. But I think that's probably enough. One object. One word. But so very many connections, with each one of those leading somewhere else. Down different wormholes.

Waffle, waft, wave, woof woof, wafer.

Host, forget, oblate, offering, gaffe, gaff, gaffer.

Croffle! - so new.

Honeycomb and cake - we didn't really look at them.

And why did someone think of squeezing a batter between two bits of iron with square holes? That's a whole new essay that might be quite interesting but not say anything. A bit like most of my rambles.


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