What’s a ‘hotchpotch’?

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: hotchpotch…

I picked up the book Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither by Sara Baume on the shelf of my local library mainly because it was short. I saw it was about a dog and my interest declined, but then I spotted a testimonial by Anne Enright. I’m such a fan of Enright’s writing that her approval was enough to convince me to borrow the book.

What’s most remarkable about this novel — which tells the story of a troubled older man and his one-eyed dog — is its figurative language. (More on that another day.) But the book also gave me my word of the week, hotchpotch. Here’s how the author used it:

Altogether they form a hotchpotch of pleading eyes, foreheads worried into furry folds, tails frozen to a hopeful way.

When I read this word, I thought immediately of the word more familiar to me hodgepodge. And, indeed, they are variants of each other. Both mean something that is a jumbled mixture — as in the jumble of clothes in the photo above. Unknown to me, however, was another meaning: a thick soup or stew made from meat and vegetables. 

The etymology of the word is interesting: It was originally an Anglo-French legal term meaning “collection of property in a common ‘pot’ before dividing it equally” (late 13th century.) It came from the Old French hochepot, meaning “stew, soup” and from the German word hocher meaning “to shake.”

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