Friday, August 17, 2007

Eating Humble Pie

Our dear Finn, over at Riding the Orphan Train is eating Humble Pie. Not being content to just sit here and watch her eat it (especially if I thought I might want some..) I had to do an etymological search on the original, if you will, of 'Humble pie.'

Now, for those of you who may have heard of, but not oft tasted humble pie, it is best served with regrets... as opposed to whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche. So, I offer you this... for today's plateful.

From Wikipedia:
"To eat humble pie, in common usage, is to apologize and face humiliation for a serious error.

The expression derives from umble pie, which was a pie filled with liver, heart and other offal, especially of cow but often deer. These parts were known as umbles, and since they were considered inferior food, in medieval times the pie was often served to lower-class people.

Although "umbles" and the modern word "humble" are etymologically unrelated, each word has appeared both with and without the initial "h" after the Middle Ages until the 19th century. Since the sound "h" is often dropped in many dialects, and "umble" was a humble meal anyway, the phrase was re-bracketed as "humble pie". While "umble" is now gone from the language, the phrase remains, carrying the fossilized word as an idiom.

See also:
To eat boiled crow
Meaning: Act submissively and apologetically, especially in admitting an error. "

With my usual predilection for extensive research in my "nose to the grindstone" quest for illumination, I discovered that 'umbles' were also called 'numbles (or noumbles, nomblys, or noubles.) Samuel Pepys makes many references to such pies in his famous diary. For example, on 5th July 1662:
"I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done."and on 8th July 1663:
"Mrs Turner came in and did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven, extraordinarily good."

It is possible that it was the pies that caused the move from numbles to umbles. 'A numble pie' could easily have become an umble pie', in the same way that 'a napron' became 'an apron' and 'an ewt' became 'a newt'. This changing of the boundaries between words is called metanalysis and is commonplace in English.

The adjective humble, meaning 'of lowly rank' or 'having a low estimate of oneself' derived separately from umbles, which derives from Latin and Old French words for loins. (Incidentally, if you feel like girding your loins and aren't sure exactly where they are, the OED coyly describes them as 'the parts of the body that should covered with clothing').

The similarity of the sound of the words, and the fact that umble pie was often eaten by those of humble situation could easily have been the reason for 'eat humble pie' to have come to have its current idiomatic meaning.

Now, in any case, our dear Finn is definitely not 'lower class' nor is she inferior in any way, shape or norm. So dear Finn, pull that piece of pie right out of your mouth, right this minute! And dear sweet Molly, certainly never intended for her darling Orphan Train quilt to cause you dietary distress, nor me an etymological diffusion! Nor, you my dear readers, a discretionary offensive infusion.

shown here:
more of my potholders:
using the crow for serving, not eating

And Finn, dear, you are not to apologize for your menu choices. That would be eating boiled crow, not once, but twice!