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The etymological roots of marmalade

Posted by Patty O'Dawes on December 04, 2001

In Reply to: The etymological roots of marmalade posted by Paul Taylor on December 04, 2001 at

: Could anyone, please, settle a friendly argument between my sister and I? Doubtless, we are both wrong. My sister holds that the word marmalade is derived from Mary Queen of Scots. According to my sister, Mary had a vitamin deficiency and required Industrial doses of Vitamin C. Sivillian Oranges were mashed into a pulp/preserve and exported to her in Scotland. Thus, according to my sister, the preserve was named "Mary My Lady". Or, when abbreviated ,marmalade´. For me, this appears to be a strange mixture of French and English. Moreover, it appears, to me, a somewhat excessive procedure for the Spanish to go through for one person even though, of course, they had a vested interest in her health as she was a possible Catholic heir to the English throne. When My sister furnished me with this "information" yesterday I said nothing but it was bugging me that there was something not quite right about the linguistical hybrid. In contrast, my explanation for the word is simple (and this could be wrong because I am just guessing). As you know the mortality rate for sailors in the 15thC was very high. Scurvy was of course the main cause of death. Marmalade is a pickle really. A preservative. A I feel that marmalade (like Limes and subsequently..Limey) may have been utillised as a precaution, by sailors, against scurvy. To me the word marmalade in its etymological context is simple Mar malade. Literal translation Sea Sickness. If anyone can elaborate on either of these points I would be eternally grateful. I live in Spain and my friends and I, are always looking for the roots of words as many English words have thier roots in Latin. In addition to this, we have competitions, while drinking our Mañana Cafe con leche, to try and see who can come up with the most useless information. This one is the King of useless info non?

Your'e not so far off the mark with the nautical origin. Some years ago a lady from the OED appeared on the BBC's Word of Mouth program and explained that authentic marmalade was made from pilchards, and that the English fruit marmalade came about as a result of the mistranslation of peche as peach. Oranges came later when William of Orange banned peaches.

The talk was broadcast on April 1st.


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