TNQDE: On the Good Ship

I guess “The Not Quite Daily Etymologist” has become more of a “When I Feel Like It” or “By Request” feature. I’d say I’m sorry, but let’s be honest here: trying to keep up with four posts a week takes time away from my knitting. More people are interested in what I have to say about knitting. This is amusing to me, since I know WAY more about etymology than knitting, but the audience is boss. If you have word requests, let me know and I’ll do a post. Otherwise, I’ll just try to get back to posting my usual random stuff on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Today I have a special word request from my nephew, who for sake of privacy, I will call Train Dude. He may not like me for this in a few years, but he’s been in love with trains since I met him, so it fits for now. Anywho…Train Dude requested (via his mother) a history of that classic confection, the lollipop.


This word is actually a classic example of why you can’t trust yourself entirely to dictionaries for etymology. In my good old standby, the AHCD, the etymology for “lollipop” suggests that “lolly” might be a dialectal variant for “tongue,” from “loll” as “to dangle the tongue.” Really, guys? Really? That was the best you could do? The definition of “loll” doesn’t even vaguely reference tongues. That is a stretch at best.  For the “-pop” part of the word, they redirect us to “pop,” as in “to burst open or appear abruptly.” I suppose one could buy this on the premise that when you pull a lollipop out of your mouth quickly, it will pop.

There’s another story on Wikipedia that I like but which I am inclined to perceive as misleading at best and total nonsense at worst. George Smith, an American candymaker, trademarked the word lollipop in 1931. He reportedly invented the modern lollipop around 1908 and named the confection for a racehorse called Lolly Pop. I’d buy that as a legitimate part of the history, but the application of the word lolly pop to some sort of candy can be dated back at least to 1784. Given that the word has been around for close to two hundred years, at least, by the time that horse was racing, I would suspect that the horse had been named for a candy in the first place. Weird little path for a word to take, candy to horse to different candy, but stranger things have happened.

The third story I’ve found is the one I like the best. The Romany people have a tradition of selling toffee apples on a stick. Would you like to know the phrase for red apple in Romany? Loli phaba. If that’s a coincidence, I’m a monkey’s uncle, and I’ll tell you why. The Romany people are more recognizably (though not preferably) known as Gypsies. They first arrived in western Europe in the 1300s. For a number of reasons, they traveled widely throughout Europe, having a plethora of opportunities to share their traditions, confections, and words with the native residents of the places they passed through. I think it much more probable that the “lollipop” dates back to those Romany candied apples and that through a combination of social stigma, general ignorance, and a scarcity in the written record, folk etymology (also known as “people making stuff up”) has come up with the two other stories I mentioned to explain the history of the word.

So there you go, Train Dude. Lollipops are probably named for fruit. I wish I could tell you that would convince your mom to let you have more, but I think we both know that’s not gonna happen.

One thought on “TNQDE: On the Good Ship

  1. Yay!!!! This is great. “Train Dude” will be so excited. And, I think he’ll like his new name. He’ll probably turn this into a way for me to let him have more candied apples! What fun. Thank you.


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