Etymology of Cake


This morning I read the OxfordWords Blog post “Let them eat cake! Twelve facts about cake.” They had this part about the etymology of cake:

The word ‘cake’ comes from Middle English kake, and is probably a borrowing from Old Norse (compare the modern Norwegian kake, as well as Icelandic and Swedish kaka). It is also related to the German word for cake, Kuchen. Interestingly, the French, Spanish, and Italian words for ‘cake’ do not share a common root; they are gâteau, pastel, and torta respectively. They are, however, related to the English words ‘gateau’, ‘pastry’, and ‘tart’.

Let me get at the second part here about French, Spanish, and Italian words. Taken one way: Of course, they do not share a common root for the word “cake.” Those languages stem from Latin: they are romance languages. Taken another way: These are Latin-based languages, and Latin, from my experience, doesn’t have one particular way to refer to desserts of the cake sort.

Now to get at the first part there, which makes a lot of sense if you think about. The Angles and Saxons arrived at the British Isles in the fifth century, and their period of history ranges somewhere between 550 and 1066 (up to the Norman conquest). Scandinavians (namely the Vikings) invaded Britain in the year 800. That’s a long time for languages to mix and mingle or completely die off.

So, yah! Ennglish and the Scandinavian languages are very similar. I read this article talking about how a linguist claims that English is a Scandinavian language. I’m honestly not surprised, and I’d like to see what further research has to say. I see understand the similarities. I haven’t personally looked at English and Norwegian, but English and Icelandic have many commonalities. Similar grammatical structure, some pronunciation (or rather, English butchering the pronunciation of many words), etc. This also all helps to explain why Norwegian and other Scandinavian languages are supposed to be easier for us English speakers to learn, and vice versa.

Language and its origins is fascinating. Sometimes I wish I’d studied linguistics instead. Is that the next degree?

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3 thoughts on “Etymology of Cake

  1. walkercynthia

    I love the study of words, langiage, word origins, etc. In spanish, (as well as many other languages), words have a gender (that is not necessarily related to the gender of the people the word relates to: vestido is dress, which is generally a woman’s garment, yet the word is masculine). Spanish has a number of words that are greek in origin, and those words that derive from Greeak are almost exclusively masculine. Also, I personally find Spanish much easier to pronounce than english, even with a word I’ve never seen before, because the vowels in spanish ALWAYS make the same sound. always. No long e, short e. No long i, short i. No wonder English pronunciation of borrowed words is always so mangled!

  2. That is very interesting. I am horrible at learning other languages – but I’ve never tried Scandinavian languages, maybe I would have better luck.

    Also, I love cake. And pastries. And pretty much any desserty item.

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