Pumpernickel (1766)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu May 2 15:18:12 UTC 2002

You ask me for the etymology of "pumpernickel" and I'll tell you it was the
favorite bakery item from the kitchen of a fire station that housed five
engine trucks.

Seriously,  I think the question of "bon pour Nicole" versus "farting Nick"
can be settled easily by considering the question of "propagation".  That is,
a term cannot become part of a language until
    1) somebody invents or "borrows" it
     2) the usage is picked up by other people to whom it seems the obvious
term to use
     3) the term then remains around long enough and spreads to enough people
that it becomes a part of the language

Maybe some Frenchman commented that the bread was "bon pour" his horse
Nicole.  Why would German stablehands pick up a French expression?  And if
they did, would they have used it often enough and to enough people to
establish it as a common name for the bread?

I consider it much more likely that someone, in a German town somewhere,
attributed farting to the day's production of black bread, and the term
spread through the town, either as a satire on the local bakers or via false
modestry used as advertising by the bakers.  It is much more likely that the
term would have spread in this manner.

Note that "Nick" could be either a spirit or a stereotype peasant.  In the
first case "this bread makes event the goblins fart" and in the second "this
is what farting Nick uses for his fuel."

      James A. Landau

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