Week ten: LEKVAR (probability 11825), by David Sutton

LEKVAR, says OSPD tersely (the word is not in Chambers or Collins) is 'a prune butter', clearly assuming that only the very ignorant would not know what a prune butter is. I did not know what a prune butter was, or how one produced it. Did one feed the cow a diet of prunes? This seemed unlikely. Did one stir prune juice into the milk before churning it? Merriam-Webster gave a little further information: LEKVAR was 'a prune butter used for pastry filling' and the word comes from the Hungarian lekvar, meaning 'jam'. OK, so why not call it 'prune jam'? Or was this some specialised use of the word butter I was unaware of? A little research with OED soon revealed that there were indeed other kinds of butter than that produced from milk. For example, there are vegetable butters like butter of almonds, butter of CACAO, and SHEA butter, that have never been near a cow but happen to resemble butter in consistency. And in chemistry, various anhydrous chlorides used to be called butters, e.g. butter of arsenic, butter of bismuth, butter of zinc. This would seem to add a quite unnecessary element of hazard to requests like 'pass the butter, dear', but then chemists are a funny lot.

But back to LEKVAR. That treasure-house Wikipedia was the obvious next stop, and this has a long article on LEKVAR with pictures of the stuff and gives the added information that it can also be made from apricot, peach, strawberry, plum, raspberry, cherry etc, and is used in filling pancakes, pastries, cookies, PIEROGI etc. or for spreading on biscuits. It still looks like jam to me, but what do I know about cooking?

The Hungarian language, incidentally, has given us relatively few words, perhaps because of its alienness — it is not a member of the Indo-European group but belongs to the Finno-Ugric group, being distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. My college tutor also claimed to have detected a relationship between Hungarian and the Ainu language, spoke by aboriginal inhabitants of Japan, but the general position on Ainu still seems to be that it has no generally accepted genealogical relationship to any other language family.

But among those relatively few, other interesting words given us by Hungarian are VIZSLA, a breed of hunting dog, HAIDUK (or HEYDUCK), a brigand leader, KUVASZ, a breed of sheepdog, PULI, another breed of sheepdog, MAGYAR, referring to a cut of sleeves on a garment, FOGASH, a kind of fish, the pike-perch, CSARDAS or CZARDAS, a Hungarian dance, and FRIS or FRISKA, a quick movement in that dance.


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