The words we use


Candy, as all the world knows since Ogden Nash proclaimed it so in his Reflections on Ice-breaking, is dandy, but liquor is quicker. By candy, Mr Nash meant chocolates; on this side of the Atlantic the word means boiled sweets, and although I am no expert on these matters, a proferred paper bag of these wouldn't, I fancy, get a fellow far nowadays. Mary Rogan from Sutton wrote to ask about candy's origin.

A long history the word has. In Sanskrit the term used for large lumps of sugar was khanda sakara. Khanda meant a piece, and it came from the root khand, to break up. It travelled from India to Persia, where in ancient times it was known as kand; from Persian the Arab traders got their sukkar quandi, a term which eventually reached French in the 14th century as sucre candi. It came from France to England and Ireland as sugar candy and the sugary candy of the nursery rhyme: `Handy pandy, Jack the dandy; Loved plum pie and sugary candy. He bought some in the grocer's shop, And out he came, hop, hop, hop'. It wasn't until the 18th century that people dropped the adjective, leaving the noun to fend for itself.

The Sanskrit sakara originally meant gravel; the sweet stuff had gritty chrystals. The Persiams borrowed the word as shakar, the Arabs borrowed it from the Persians as sukkar. The Crusaders loved this exotic sweetener; up to then honey was used all over Europe. It was very expensive, and the Venetian traders made vast fortunes from it. The price didn't fall until Columbus proved that it would grow in abundance outside the Middle East. Sukkar became succarum and zuccarum in medieval Latin. From there it passed into Italian as zuccero, and eventually it reached English and Irish by way of Old French sukere and zuchre.

The Sanskrit word khanda brought to mind the English dialect word cant, a cut or joint of meat, a cut of bread. In Irish we have the word canta is a borrowing from the English word, itself borrowed from the Middle Dutch kant, `a piece, portion, a district of land, a piece of bread', according to Verdam, the great authority on these matters. And the Dutch word can be traced all the way back to ancient India. That's the best I can do for you, Mary.