ersatz_read (ersatz_read) wrote in 1word1day,


victual (vtl)
noun:  1.  Food fit for human consumption
           2.  victuals:  Food supplies, provisions
verb:  1.  To lay in food supplies.
          2.  To eat.

This is not an uncommon word, but it is an interesting one to me because I only recently became aware of the disparity between spelling and pronunciation.  I would read 'victuals', and I would hear "vittles", but always in separate situations:  no one read the word to me, and no one ever corrected me when I pronounced it "vik' tyoo alz".  To top things off, sometimes I would also see the spelling 'vittles' in a story, when a no-nonsense frontier woman spoke, or an old forty-niner referred to his plate of beans.  So I always assumed "vittles" and 'victuals' were two separate words for the same basic concept, and that they were pronounced differently.

But this is not the case:  'victuals' is pronounced "vittles", and always has been; what changed was the spelling.  The word came to us in the 1300s from Old French vitaille, with the 'vittle' pronunciation.  That French word came from the Latin word victualia (provisions).  Apparently in the early 16th century, the spelling was altered to more closely conform with the word's Latin roots.  But the pronunciation remained 'vittle'.

As for my old forty-niner and his plate of beans...'vittles' is also in use in English, with the same pronunciation and basic meaning as 'victuals'.  It is less common, and tends to imply a more rustic vocabulary. 

The U.S. portion of the Berlin Blockade was called Operation Vittles (with the "rustic" spelling).

Another new-to-me development with this word is the first time I recall seeing it used as a verb:
    "When the cell is finished, the Bee at once sets to work to victual it....She dives head first into the cell; and for a few moments you see some spasmodic jerks which show that she is disgorging the honey-syrup.  After emptying her honey-crop, she comes out of the cell, only to go in again at once, but this time backwards.  The Bee now brushes the lower side of her abdomen with her two hindlegs and rids herself of her load of pollen.  Once more she comes out and once more goes in head first.  It is a question of stirring the materials, with her mandibles for a spoon, and making the whole into a homogeneous mixture.  This mixing-operation is not repeated after every journey; it takes place only at long intervals, when a considerable quantity of material has been accumulated.
    "The victualling is complete when the cell is half full.  An egg must now be laid on the top of the paste and the house must be closed.  All this is done without delay."
    - J. Henri Fabre, "The Mason Bees" (1914, translated from French by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos).
Tags: noun, old french, v, verb, wordsmith: ersatz_read

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