aspic

This word made me snicker when I first heard it. I was about 10 years old. I soon learned that its object was some unfun adult version of Jell-o – I found that to be a less auspicious aspect. Still, a spicy aspic is as pickable as pickles, and I certainly grasp I can prefer it to some versions of picas. One does need to get past the unpleasant overtones of a racist epithet. But the word has an unavoidable bite to it, not simply from the sharp stab of pic or the snake-like hiss before it, but from the snake that not only begins it but actually is it: aspic is an extended form (useful in poetry) of asp (one of them bites Shakespeare’s Cleopatra). How does that come to be savoury jelly? One suggestion is that the jelly was said to be “froid comme un aspic,” a cliché in French. Or it could be that it is of the same colour as an asp. Either way, it doesn’t seem to be any connection to the third aspic, which is another word for spikenard (great lavender).

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