pissaladière

Mmmm… does this sound appetizing? I had some yesterday and it was good.

Whaddya mean, no?

OK, look, it has nothing to do with piss. And it’s not a salad (but see below: there is a cognate relation). And it has nothing to do with your – or anyone’s – derrière.

It’s also unrelated, as it happens, to pis (meaning “worse” or, vernacularly, “then”), picalilli, saloperie, palais de glace, the Salpêtrière, Place Pigalle, Camille Pissarro, or pizzapizza the word, that is; it sure looks an awful lot like pizza the thing.

So what is the object of this word? It’s the Provençal answer to pizza, in fact: it’s a flat bread with onions, black olives, and anchovies. There are other seasonings, too: thyme and basil, perhaps, salt and pepper, and garlic.

Ah, now I have you a bit more interested, eh? Well, good. It’s not too often we taste an Occitan word.

Oh, stop. Occitan has no relation to occult. It’s a language, and its name actually comes from its word for “yes”, oc (whence also the area of France called Languedoc). It’s a romance language closely related to French and Catalan that is still spoken in the south of France. (Well, it’s not standardized, and there’s a fair amount of arguing about what version people should be speaking, and whether to call it Occitan or Provençal, but, hey, look, food!)

Anyway, where does this dogpile of a word come from, this overloaded verbal salad (two of everything: two a‘s, two i‘s, two e‘s, two s‘s, two loops with stems – p and d are the same form at 180-degree rotation – and two liquid consonants) that looks like it should be naming something more closely resembling, say, muffuletta? Well, the first part is from pissalat, which may look like what you’ll do after a few pints of beer, but you might do a bit less after eating one, because it’s Occitan for “anchovy” and comes ultimately from Latin piscis “fish”. Merging into it is salat, meaning “salted”, cognate with salt and, as I said, salad (an essential feature of salads used to be that they were salted). The ière is just a noun suffix comparable to the English agentive er suffix.

So if you don’t like the overtones of this word to English ears, just think of it as being a pizza légère. And just have a frickin’ bite, eh? And a glass of Tavel rosé to wash it down.

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