07 September 2009

'Bartholomew Pigges'

While about my business in the WC yesterday (24 August on the Church’s calendar, you recall), I chanced to be browsing through a delightful book by Jeffrey Kacirk called Forgotten English: A Merry Guide to Antiquated Words, Packed with History, Fun Facts, Literary Excerpts, and Charming Drawings (NY: Quill, 1997). In chapter 7, ‘Fun and Games: Tup-Running, Bladderskates, and Karrows’, I noticed the word ‘gammon’, ‘A term still commonly heard in English butcher shops, meaning a ham or pork haunch, taken from the Old French gambon [a point of amusement to me, since I dislike the actor Michael Gambon], and related to the modern French jambe, a leg, and jambon, ham. Gammon appears to have stemmed from ME gamen, or hunting game’ (p. 100). Then, after a brief passage from William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy (1822), Kacirk informs us:

Roasted gammons called ‘bartholomew pigges’ were a major attraction on Saint Bartholomew’s Day, ‘sold piping hot, and ostentatiously displayed to excite the appetites of passengers’. On August 24th, from 1133 until 1855, a fair was held in honor of this patron saint of butchers, cheese merchants, and tanners, just outside the northern gates of London in Smithfield. Nares implied that the Puritans railed against this porky treat for its blasphemous name, adding that eating it was considered the ‘spice of adultery’.

Obviously, St Bartholomew’s Day in the Orthodox Church is not 24 August, but 11 June, but I thought this an interesting historical fact about the observance of his day in the West, which coincided nicely with the Old Calendar date on which I happened to be reading the book. Kacirk concludes with the following observation:

It was perhaps partially a result of these fairs that a late seventeenth-century verb form of gammon developed, meaning to deceive simple people; by 1800, gammon had become synonymous with poppycock or the modern baloney. In this regard Dickens wrote in the Pickwick Papers, ‘Some people maintain that an Englishman’s house is his castle. That’s gammon!’ (p. 101)


Fr. David said...

Just an aside. On the Western and "Sarum" Orthodox Calenders used by ROCOR Western Rites , St. Bartholomew's Day is 24 August (OS).

Hieromonk David

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for pointing that out, Fr David!