Daily Archives: November 1, 2010

curry favour

The food court had suddenly become busy, and stomachs were growling. I was along for something to munch on, but the options that didn’t involve waiting were few.

Actually, the options numbered exactly one: only Chennai Kari House was unmobbed. Turning to Maury, who was slumped in a seat in dismay, and Jess, who had one eyebrow arched in that love-child-of-Ellen-DeGeneres-and-Mister-Spock way she has, I said, “Well, I favour curry.”

“You’re just saying that to curry favour,” Jess said.

“That old chestnut!” Maury snorted.

“Chestnut!” I said. “I rather think it’s been lying fallow.”

“Well, the point is, I think you’re just fawning.”

“Ha. That would make me a horse of a different colour.”

Jess’s eyebrow ratcheted up a notch. “I think I must have been away when you covered that one. Perhaps you could go over it again?”

“With a fine-toothed comb?” I said.

“A curry comb would do fine. I’m sure that curry as in combing down a horse, from a Latin word meaning ‘make ready’, is the source of the curry in curry favour. But could you do me a favour…?”

Curry favel,” Maury said drily.

Favel being an old term for ‘fallow’, ‘fawn’, or perhaps ‘chestnut’ – as in a colour,” I explained. “For a horse.”

“In medieval French allegories,” Maury explained further, “the fallow horse was a symbol of cunning and deceit.”

“Oh, yes,” Jess said, with an of-course toss of the hand. “The Roman de Fauvel.”

“All the potentates come to bow down before the titular donkey and to brush him off – curry him,” I said. “Sucking up and fawning over him. So originally it was a donkey, but later a horse. And then, reasonably enough, the phrase was reconstrued as curry favour.”

“All that fawning led to their roan-ation, anyway,” Maury said.

“I think the lack of food is getting to your head,” I said.

“Pappadum preach,” Maury shot back.

“Don’t talk naan-sense,” I retorted.

“OK, guys, I don’t want to be playing ketchup,” Jess said.

We both looked at her. “I’m guessing,” I said, “that that’s a reference to curry the food coming from Tamil kari, which was originally a word for a sauce or relish for rice, and to ketchup coming from Malay kechap, which is a fish sauce.”

“No,” Jess said, looking again at the Chennai Kari House counter, where a line was forming, “I’m saying I don’t want to play catch-up. We’re going to be stuck behind the mad rush for Madras if you two don’t get off your punning butts.”

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