Word mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).I got a request for my Barcelona travel tips recently which means I had to look for my Barcelona travel tips. Among the many docs I created over the years I was living there for visiting friends and family, I put together a culinary cheat sheet of common lunch items featured on Catalan menus, reminding me of some word mysteries.
CAT → mandonguilla — Bola de carn capolada molt finament i pastada amb pa ratllat, ous batuts i espècies, que es menja fregida o guisada. [Ball of finely minced meat mixed with breadcrumbs, beaten eggs and spices, which is eaten fried or stewed.] ORIGIN Spanish albondiguilla crossed with mondongo.
ES → albóndiga — Cada una de las bolas que se hacen de carne o pescado picado menudamente y trabado con ralladuras de pan, huevos batidos y especias, y que se comen guisadas o fritas. [Each of the balls which are made of meat or fish minced and bound with breadcrumbs, beaten eggs and spices, which are eaten stewed or fried.] ORIGIN Hispanicized Arabic albúnduqa, from classic Arabic bunduqah, this last derived from Greek [κάρυον] ποντικόν ‘ [nut].
EN → meatball — a ball of ground or chopped meat, usually beef, with added seasonings.
It speaks volumes that the Catalan and Spanish definitions are practically identical and function as recipes. If I were a betting person, I’d say that the Catalans cribbed their definition from the official Spanish one. Amusingly, there’s no etymological note on where the English word comes from. I guess that its origins aren’t that hard to guess. To be fair, in French they’re also called boulettes de viande.