Brexit porkies: the etymology of ‘sausage’, star of the latest trade row

·1 min read

Are you getting hot under the collar about chilled meats? Boris Johnson, who made his mark as a journalist inventing stories about European food regulation, is now outraged that shipping sausages from the UK to Northern Ireland requires paperwork, which is what he agreed six months ago. As you might say if feeling charitable, what a silly sausage.

Related: UK asks EU for more time to resolve Brexit sausage row

To call someone a “silly sausage” is a surprisingly recent invention, only attested since a 1934 novel, and dachshunds were christened “sausage dogs” in the same decade. The word “sausage” itself, however, is satisfyingly old, existing since the 15th century (as sawsyge). It comes from the French saucisse, which is derived in turn from the Latin salsicia, meaning “things prepared with salt”, as in cured meats.

During the first world war, “Sausages” was also one of the less offensive terms employed by the British to describe German soldiers, which augurs well for Global Britain’s next trade war with Europe. In the meantime, let us remember the adage that laws are like sausages, in that it’s best not to inquire too closely into how they are made: advice that the prime minister, who cannot remember what is in his own treaties, surely follows assiduously.

Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is published by Quercus.

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