Canadian bacon (1897)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Feb 2 14:28:21 UTC 2003

In a message dated 01/30/2003 11:44:53 PM Eastern Standard Time,
Bapopik at AOL.COM writes:

>    October 1897, NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW (American Periodical Series online;
> also on Making of America-Cornell, the only hit there), pg. 418 start:
>     Being excluded from the American market by heavy duties upon pork and
> swine, the farmers and packers of Canada set about ascertaining what grade
> goods would best suit the English taste, with a determination to shape
> business in such a way as to meet that taste.  The result is that Canadian
> bacon and hams so far lead the American product in the English market <snip>
>     11 June 1911, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. 63 ad:
>  _MACY'S_
>     For Shrewd Housewives
>  (...)
>  _Bacon_, a special sale of Wilshire imported Canadian bacon; a fresh
> shipment just received, freshly cured, delicately flavored; we receive
> monthly shipments; weights 3 to 25 lbs; at this sale, lb. ... 24 cents

You can't tell the players without the context.

When referring to meat from pigs, the word "bacon" has two meanings:
1)  OED definition 1 "The back and sides of the pig, 'cured' by salting,
drying, etc.  Formerly also the fresh flesh now called pork"  MWCD10 has a
similar definition "a side of a pig cured and smoked"

2) (not in OED or M-W 9th or 10th Collegiate) paraphrasing Vida Morkunas "a
cut of pork, typically cut in slices 8 - 12 inches long, 1" wide and about
1/4 of an inch thick,  very heavily marble[d] with fat"

"Canadian bacon" from M-W 10th Collegiate "bacon cut from the loin that has
little fat and is cut into round or oblong slices"  and is dated 1934.  (9th
Collegiate says only "bacon cut from the loin" and gives a date of 1938)

Which is meant in the above quotations?

In the 1897 quotation, "Canadian bacon and hams" it is more probable that
"Canadian" modifies both "bacon" and "hams" and therefore "Canadian bacon"
means "sides of pork from Canada"

In the 1911 quote the mention of "25 pounds" is pretty convincing that the
first definition is meant---it would be a very impressive porker that had 25
pound loins.

Hence neither citation convincingly antedates M-W's 1934.

While we're being trefa (a word for which I've submitted an 1832 usage to
OED), let us examine that curious phrase, "pork bellies", not in OED, in M-W
both 9th and 10th Collegiate "an uncured side of pork",  dated "ca. 1950".
To refer to a "side" of pork as a "belly" seems odd, but there is a diagram
of pork cuts in the M-W 9th Collegiate (unfortunately removed from the 10th
Collegiate) which shows that a "side" of pork is in fact the bottom or
"belly" side, running from the ham to the picnic.  (If you think that's
confusing, consider that (MWCD10) a "butt" of pork is "a lean upper cut of
the pork shoulder").

It is surprising that "pork belly" is not in OED since, in the US at least,
it is a standard term in the commodities market and M-W's "circa 1950" could
be easily antedated by looking at the commodities reports in the Wall Street
Journal.  However, it is possible that the term "pork belly" is not used in
British commodities markets---would it be possible for one of our British or
Commonwelth listmembers to check this out without having to purchase a
contract on 56 tons of meat futures?

                           - Jim Landau

If a pugilist pig delivers an upper cut in the boxing ring, is that
considered a "butt"?

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