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Words with recycled origins

'Going to pot'

Degradation of all sorts has come to be known as "going to pot." This expression dates back to the 16th century and refers to English squires who consumed large quantities of beef, mutton, and pork. After the best pieces were trimmed off a roasted joint, the remnants were put into a pot for their reappearance as a stew or hash, and often served to servants.

A less popular theory claims the phrase comes from the blacksmith's "melting pot" into which broken items of gold or silver were thrown when they could no longer be repaired. These scraps were melted down and reused.

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Pretzel

This twisted biscuit comes from the Latin bracchium, "having branches like little arms," because the shape of the knot resembles arms folded in prayer. In German, this hard cake of folded dough became known as Brezel.

Legend has it that seventh-century monks in France were the first to roll leftover dough in this way. They baked the ring-shaped buns as prizes for children who had learned their daily lessons.

SOURCES: 'Loose Cannons and Red Herrings,' by Robert Claiborne; 'A Browser's Dictionary,' by John Ciardi; 'Why You Say It,' by Webb Garrison.


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