"Guinea" etymology

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 5 01:42:09 UTC 2010

At 9:26 PM -0400 5/4/10, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>I did a little more reading, and I think I've identified the inspiration
>for Lingard's "Italian Guinea Pig Boy" song.
>I don't find any evidence of guinea pigs being a usual 19th century food
>among Italians or other Europeans.
>The relevant stereotype seems to be that of a street beggar boy of
>Italian origin. Along with the stereotypical street-organ man with
>monkey, there was the stereotypical boy with guinea-pig (or mouse, or
>other animal). As I understand it, the (poor hungry cute) animal could
>serve as a pretext for soliciting a handout, or as a conversation
>starter leading up to a request for small change. I think the guinea-pig
>boy stereotype was more prevalent in Britain, particularly London,
>although I suppose the same thing happened in New York and elsewhere.
This all makes sense (given the excerpts I deleted), but I was
thinking of an alternative source.  I had never heard of Italians (or
anyone else) eating guinea pigs, but I remember attending a
conference in Urbino in 1979 and finding a regular item on the menus
there, probably "faraona", which was glossed as "guinea hen" and was
really quite a delicacy indeed.  I accept that there's no connection
with the "Guinea" label for (or against) Italians, but this thread
was a nice excuse for the reminiscence.  (I had the tastiest peaches
I've ever consumed in my life there too, but I've never heard anyone
call Italians "Pesche".)


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