Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Word Mystery: albóndiga / mandonguilla / meatball


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.


Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

5 thoughts on “Word Mystery: albóndiga / mandonguilla / meatball

  1. This one is quite unique. Each language is a combination of words with completely different origins! Fascinating. I think this is my favorite so far, but I’ll probably say that about the next one too.

  2. First of all–thank you so much for the shout-out! I’m very flattered you found my lamb meatballs/albondigas/mandonguillas worthy of illustrating this post.

    But to the task at hand–I have a copy of The Book of Sent Sovi and now I want to see if there are any meatball recipes listed, and if so if they match the current Catala word, because so many of the recipes in that book, from what I’ve read so far, are just as prescriptive as the definition for mandonguilla.

    • Yours were the first ‘balls I thought of, so there they are!

      The book you mention should be interesting and tricky, the latter because the Catalan language was (relatively) recently reverse engineered to create an “official” one, so there are many things that have diff’t names in diff’t towns. There was a cool travel/food/educational show on TV that I’ll try to find where the host would go around Catalunya and talk about stuff with locals. Those segments were then intercut with scenes from other places with people giving diff’t names for the same thing and all the words would flash on the screen. It was like Family Feud’s “survey says…” but smarter.

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