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“Vittles” a Victim of Fanciful Philologists

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Caroline in Charlotte, North Carolina, recalls her grandparents often used vittles to mean “food.” The word vittles derives from Latin victualis, meaning “nourishment” or “sustenance,” an etymological relative of such words as vitality and vitamin. Latin victualis passed into Old French, and along the way lost that hard C sound, becoming vitaille. After a form of this was borrowed into English, 16th-century scholars reinserted the C to make it look more like the original Latin. But the C-less pronunciation stuck around. Today the word can be spelled victuals or vittles, but both are pronounced to rhyme with littles. For a splendid introduction to the cuisine, folkways, foodways, language, and history of Appalachia, check out food writer Ronni Lundy’s book Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes (Bookshop|Amazon). This is part of a complete episode.

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