Sometimes NOOBs are entertaining, often they’re useful, but once in a while they are purely pretentious. I’d say that’s the case when the term is very rare in the U.S. and there is an exact or very nearly exact American equivalent. The word used in a tweet by the San Francisco Business Journal and flagged to me by Nancy Friedman certainly qualifies.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 10.01.31 AM

The word is “hotchpotch” and the American equivalent is “hodgepodge.”

The etymology is complex and interesting. The original English term is “hotchpot,” dating from no later than 1381, and deriving, the OED says, from the “Anglo-Norman and Middle French hochepot (French hochepot ) dish containing a mixture of many ingredients, especially kind of stew made with minced beef or goose and various vegetables (c1214 in Old French).” “Hotchpot” took on metaphorical meaning, as “A confused mixture of disparate things; a medley, a jumble” by 1405, followed five years later by a rhyming version, “hotchpotch,” referring both to the stew and the figurative jumble. “Hotchpot” and “hotchpotch” both acquired yet another continuing meaning, in law, as “The reunion and blending together of properties in order to secure equality of division; bringing into account, esp. on intestacies.”

“Hodgepodge” came on the scene in 1579, according to the OED, from the pen of poet Edmund Spenser. In the Dedication to The Shepherd’s Calendar, “E.K.” decries writers who have found the English language to be insufficient:

they patched up the 
holes with pieces and rags of other languages, borrow- 
ing here of the French, there of the Italian, every, 
where of the Latin ; not weighing how ill those tongues 
accord with themselves, but much worse with ours: 
so now they have made our English tongue a galli- 
maufray or hodgepodge of all other speeches.

“Gallimaufry” is another name for a mishmash, both of food or anything else.

I’m not sure why “hodgepodge” became the preferred American version, but it did, starting in about 1900, as this Google Ngrams Viewer chart illustrates.

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My guess is that the chart actually overstates the frequency of American “hotchpotch.” The New York Times has used it 37 times in its more than 150-year-history, all but a handful coming from British or other foreign speakers or writers. The most recent exception came from a 2002 article about (American) football, noting that the New York Giants had a hotchpotch offensive line.” In 1954, movie critic Bosley Crowther referred to The Golden Coach as having “a spectacularly hotchpotchly cast.”

On the chart, it’s interesting to see that in 1880, “hotchpot” (combined British and American, red line) was the most popular form, while it barely exists today. I take my hat off to the few souls who use it; they are really owning their pretentiousness.

10 thoughts on ““Hotchpotch”

  1. It’s really interesting that you use the word ‘pretentious’ for such an ordinary, everyday little word. I personally wouldn’t feel that any of the forms you mention would be pretentious. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘hotchpot’, but the others would be more or less interchangeable for me (in the UK).

    Incidentally, you should know of the Lancashire hotpot, a stew which presumably may be related to the hochepot, and which I’m sure many feel is related etymologically to ‘hotchpotch’ and ‘hodgepodge’.

    1. Well, the thing is that in the U.S., it is about as far from everyday as can be–virtually never used. As noted in a comment above, in the U.K. hodgepodge and hotchpotch are indeed apparently interchangeable. And thanks for the hotpot info.

  2. So, as a BrE speaker who uses “hodgepodge”, am I pretentious, too? A strange way to describe such a thing.

    1. Definitely not! The chart shows almost precisely equal usage for British “hodgepodge” and “hotchpotch.” (I see Ivan Opinion has already made this point.)

    2. I’m not sure I would describe it as pretentious, affected at a pinch, but our common gallimaufry* of a language would be much the poorer if people didn’t try new/variant forms or revive old variations just for the fun of it.
      Dismissing it as pretentious also makes no allowance for family vocabularies where a word is kept in use because granny used to use it. For instance I will, when the mood takes me, write, shew and shewn for show and shown because those are the forms my grandmother (and one or two of my schoolteachers) used along with the “five and twenty” style of counting and it’s a nice way to keep her in mind.


      *One of my favourite words and so much better than hotchpotch or hodgepodge.

      1. I salute you, Lurk! I also might affectionately call you affected, or pretentious–they mean pretty much the same, to me. And everyone is subject to being so, at one time or another.

  3. If you want to be really pretentious you can use ”congeries” which has the added bonus of having a plural form whilst being a singular.

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