We’ve sorted out what semolina is. So we know the semolina pilchard of which John Lennon sang in “I Am the Walrus” was not a girl (contrary to my youthful first impression). But I didn’t go into what a pilchard is.

I’m inclined to think it might be the sort of thing one filches. Who would filch it? Not a milch-cow – they prefer mulch. Perhaps a crabalocker fishwife. Who found it in a gulch. But if she eats it, will she belch? Or squelch it? (I’ll tell you this: whatever it is, lch notwithstanding, it doesn’t involve alchemy in a sepulchre. That would just sound wrong.)

So it’s an edible. No, it’s not chard that comes in a pill. Actually, it’s a sardine. You can buy these in cans and feed them to cats (or to yourself). Do pilchard and sardine mean the same thing? Depends on whom you ask. Some use sardine to mean ‘young pilchard’. Others divide them by species. Whatever, there’s a lot of overlap.

This word used to be pilcher or pylcher, and ended up with an ard ending by analogy with wizard, buzzard, laggard, etc. It was not pilcher because it wears a pilch (an outer garment made of animal skin, with the fur on the inside) – ew, it sure doesn’t – or a pilcher (in Oz and NZ, a flannel overcloth for diapers) – double ew – or because it is related to romance novelist Rosamunde Pilcher (a genetic connection has not been proven). No, etymologists have ruled out the red herrings. Unfortunately, what they have left to go on is… zilch. Hmm. Fishy.

5 responses to “pilchard

  1. Pingback: semolina | Sesquiotica

  2. For your personal “semolina pilchard” (the gustatory thought of which is repugnant), all one can say is “One person’s Mondegreen is another person’s Semolina”

  3. Daniel E. Trujillo

    And all these years I thought Something was the Beatles’s most interesting song…

    Daniel E. Trujillo M. @VolcadoDePila ________________________________

  4. Eww! Pilchards! When I lived in England, the Catholic convent school I went to provided lunches, which were uniformly awful. On Fridays in June and July — school went to mid-July then — we were usually served salad (from the convent garden, so we’d have to pick out twigs, small slugs, and other, similar delights) and pilchards, straight from the can. They tasted the way fish-flavoured cat food smells: utterly revolting. And we had to eat every morsel on our plates before being allowed to go outside and play. Even though this was well over half a century ago, I will never, ever forget the putrid penance of pilchards!

  5. Pingback: filch | Sesquiotica

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