What does gallimaufry mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: gallimaufry. 

When I read the new Elizabeth Gilbert novel, The Signature of All Things, I was gobsmacked to see a word I couldn’t fathom: gallimaufry.

Here is how she used it:

There would be a gallimaufry of ices and trifles and toasts, supervised (if one could call it supervision) by Retta’s adorable yet incompetent English maid. 

Judging by context, I assumed the word meant something like “a collection of” but I couldn’t guess the language of origin. It didn’t resemble any I knew!

Turns out the noun means a medley, hash or jumble of something, much as the coloured elastics in the photo above are jumbled together. And, surprisingly, the word is French. Yes, French! It dates back to the 1550s, from French galimafrée meaning “hash,” or “ragout.” This in turn comes from the Old French calimafree meaning a “sauce made of mustard, ginger, and vinegar; a stew of carp.”

The deeper origin is unknown, but I consulted a second etymological source that speculates the world might come from the  Old French verb galer, meaning “to make merry, live well” combined with the Old North French mafrer “to eat much,” which, in turn comes from the Middle Dutch maffelen. That makes sense to me. If I think about it, the word does sound rather Dutch.

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