‘marmalade’: from Latin ‘mēlŏmĕli’ and ‘mĕlĭmēla’





The noun marmalade denotes a conserve made by boiling fruits (usually oranges and other citrus fruits) in water to release the pectin around the seeds, then re-boiling the liquid and fruit with sugar to form a consistent mass usually containing embedded shreds of rind. The word marmalade also denotes a preparation of similar consistency made with other ingredients, such as a sweet preserve of diced ginger in a jelly set with apple pectin, or a relish made by cooking vegetables with sugar and vinegar.

The name of the fruit or other dominant ingredient is often prefixed, as, for example, ginger marmalade or onion marmalade, but when none is specified, orange marmalade is now usually meant. This may then be prefixed by a word denoting the style or type of orange marmalade, as, for example, in Dundee marmalade or Scotch marmalade. Since 1981, European Community regulations have restricted the commercial use of the term to preserves made with citrus fruit.

Originally, marmalade denoted a preserve consisting of a sweet, solid, quince jelly resembling chare de quince*, but with the spices replaced by flavourings of rose water and musk or ambergris, and cut into squares for eating.

(* The term chare de quince denoted a preserve made of the ‘flesh’, i.e. the pulp, of quinces — chare is from Old French char (Modern French chair), meaning flesh.)




The word marmalade is first recorded in a letter of 13th May 1480, in which Richard Germyn, a merchant at Exeter, wrote to William Stonor of

oon [= one] John Symon, which gave you the orenges and marmelate at Exeter.

The second-earliest occurrence of the word dates back to 1514; numerous English persons accompanied Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII, to France, where she married King Louis XII in October; the provision of food that the Garter King of Arms of England brought included:

a boxe of Codignac chare de qwynce marmelade.




The English noun marmalade is from Portuguese marmelada, quince marmalade, from marmelo, quince, and the suffix -ada. Close medieval trading relations between England and Portugal may account for the very early borrowing of the Portuguese word in English.

The Portuguese marmelo is from post-classical Latin malomellum, quince or sweet pome. In Originum sive Etymologiarum (The Origins or Etymologies), Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636), Spanish archbishop and Doctor of the Church, suggested that the Latin name may refer to the sweetness of the fruit or its being served with honey:

The malomellum type of apple is so named for its sweetness, because its fruit has the taste of honey, or because it is preserved in honey; whence a certain poet says (Martial, Epigrams 13.24):
If quinces steeped in Cecropian honey are placed before you, you would say, “I like these honey-apples!”
(from The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville – Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof – Cambridge University Press, 2006)
     original text:
Malomellum a dulcedine appellata, quod fructus eius mellis saporem habeat, vel quod in melle servetur ; unde et quidam (Mart. 13, 24) :
Si tibi Cecropio saturata Cydonia melle
ponentur, dicas : Haec melimela placent.

The post-classical Latin word malomellum seems to be a blend of two classical-Latin words:
mēlŏmĕli, the syrup of preserved quinces,
mĕlĭmēla, plural of mĕlĭmēlum, a variety of sweet pome;
– while t
he -a- in malomellum is after classical Latin mālum, pome [see note].

The Latin words mēlŏmĕli and mĕlĭmēlum are respectively from Hellenistic Greek μηλόμελι (= mēlόmeli) and μελίμηλον (= melímēlon); both these Greek words are from ancient Greek μῆλον (= mē̃lon), meaning pome [see note], and μέλι (= méli), meaning honey.


Note: I have decided to translate Greek μῆλον and Latin mālum not as apple (the usual translation) but as pome, because these words denoted any tree-fruit fleshy on the outside and having a kernel within, such as an apple, a quince, a pomegranate, a peach, an orange, a lemon. Latin mālum can be contrasted with nux/nŭcis, denoting any fruit with a hard shell or rind (cf. English nut)—also read the apple of one’s eye – la prunelle de ses yeux and origin of ‘the forbidden fruit’.




According to a popular theory, when feeling out of sorts, Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) could only eat one thing, a conserve made of oranges, which was subsequently named in French after her indisposition: Marie (est) malade, meaning Marie (is) ill. Various versions of the story exist; for example, The Courier (Dundee, Scotland) of 24th February 1902 reported that during the eleventh annual dinner of the London Forfarshire Association, held in the Caledonian Hall of the Holborn Restaurant, the chairman had declared:

He had only heard the derivation of the word marmalade some time ago. Mary Queen Scots, when crossing from Dunkirk to Dundee, suffered very much from sea sickness, and when she landed at Dundee she fell very ill. French was a good deal spoken then, and nothing would tempt Queen Mary but a little orange jam. After partaking of this she felt much better. From the French Marie est Malade they therefore got the popular word “Marmalade.”

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