fag food

The story starts with a Facebook posting from Ned Deily, who’s currently in Rome:

Fagolosi is a product name, for breadsticks made by the Grissin Bon company of Reggio Emilio. Phallic, and with fag in the name. Gay food. (On gay spaghetti, see here.)

There’s a lot I don’t know about the product name Fagolosi — in particular, what associations the name might have for speakers of Italian, though what comes first to my mind are the words fagotto ‘bassoon’ and fagottini (for a type of pasta), which suggest sticks or reeds and bundles or purses, respectively.

Before I get to that, a bit more about the Fagolosi (note that the word is plural). One site says, in somewhat rocky English:

Special breadsticks with a very particular shape, exclusive creation of Grissin Bon (patented name ®) that competitors are trying to copy but with no success.

Differently from the classic breadsticks, Fagoloso [the singular form] has a flat and undulating shape with grains of salt that make it very appetizing.

Careful preparation, long leaving and thorough cooking make Fagolosi crumbly and crunchy.

Flavours available: CLASSIC, ROSEMARY, SESAME and ONION.

Now to bassoons, or fagotti (abbreviated fag. in musical scores, which always entertains young English-speaking musicians). My sources are unclear about the etymology, but ‘bundle of sticks’ (which combines ‘stick’ and the ‘bundle’ components; the bassoon looks like two sticks — tubes — bound together, a connection made by Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary in 1913) is a possibility.

Fagotto ‘bassoon’ was borrowed directly from Italian into English; OED2’s first cite is 1724. Meanwhile, faggot or fagot had been in English since the 14th century, for ‘a bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches of trees bound together’, for use as fuel or for sweeping (a sense from which the slur faggot developed via a chain of semantic shifts); OED2 gives its etymology as from

French fagot, of unknown origin; compare Italian fa(n)gotto

which leaves the connections unclear.

The word fagottini (again, a plural) is more straightforward. The Wikipedia description:

Fagottini is an Italian pasta. They are typically pasta shapes filled with vegetables, typically steamed carrots and green beans, ricotta, onion and olive oil. [note the shift from singular syntax in English to plural]

And the more extensive description in George Legendre’s Pasta by Design (Thames & Hudson, 2011):

A notable member of the pasta ripiena (filled pasta) family, fagottini (little purses) are made from circles of durum-wheat dough. A spoonful of ricotta, steamed vegetables or even stewed fruit is placed on the dough, and the corners are then pinched together to form a bundle. These packed dumplings are similar to ravioli, only larger. [also in the pasta ripiena family, in addition to fagottini and ravioli: agnolotti, cannelloni, cappelletti, conchiglioni rigati, creste di galli, galletti, lasagna larga doppia riccia, lumaconi rigati, saccottini, tortellini]

So fagottino is the diminutive of fagotto ‘purse’. An apt name for the pasta. Here’s a photo of fagottini just like the one pictured in Legendre (p. 61):

The accompanying text tells us that the purses are filled with ricotta and radicchio (red “Italian chicory”).

There are other variants. Here’s one with pronounced handles on the purses:

The text:

These tiny parcels have a meat based filling and as they are fresh [from the Florence market] take next to no time to cook. Combined with a good chicken stock you have a most nourishing meal in a flash. (link)

(In a flash if you can get fresh meat-filled fagottini from your market.)

Finally, the handles can be tied off, by scallions (scalogni) as here:

These are fagottini di crêpes agli spinaci, with a spinach and caprino (goat cheese) filling (recipe, in Italian, here).


(More about Legendre’s fascinating book and on Hildebrand & Kenedy’s 2010 The Geometry of Pasta in a later posting.)

8 Responses to “fag food”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Several commenters on Facebook have asked about the British food fag(g)ots. From OED2, first cites:

    1851 H. Mayhew London Labour II. 227/2 He..made his supper..on fagots’. This preparation..is a sort of cake, roll, or ball,..made of chopped liver and lights, mixed with gravy, and wrapped in pieces of pig’s caul.
    1858 G. A. Sala Journey due North 308 The curious viands known in cheap pork-butchery..as Faggots.

    (The OED treats this as a development from the ‘bundle, collection’ sense of faggot.) It’s thrift food.

    More detail from the Wikipedia entry:

    Faggots are a traditional dish in the UK, especially South and Mid Wales and the Midlands of England. It is made from meat off-cuts and offal, especially pork. A faggot is traditionally made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavouring and sometimes bread crumbs. The mixture is shaped in the hand into balls, wrapped round with caul fat (the omentum membrane from the pig’s abdomen), and baked. [other culinary variants follow] [served with mashed potatoes, peas. and gravy]

    The best-known commercial brand is Brains Faggots.

    Senses of fag other than the clipping of sexual faggot come either from a ‘hard work, drudgery’ sense (from the verb, of obscure origin, meaning ‘flag, droop, decline; labor, strain, toil’), as in

    In English public schools, a junior who performs certain duties for a senior. Also transf. a drudge.

    or from a clipping of fag-end (fag ‘bit of cloth that hangs loose; last part or remnant of anything’, from fag ‘droop, decline’, plus end), giving, ultimately ‘cigarette’.

  2. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    And then there’s the interesting Italian food connection, that the pejorative (fag) in Italian is finocchio, or fennel. (I learned that fact over 40 years ago, in my earliest days of fennelhood; I’m not sure I even encountered the vegetable until a good ten years later.)

    Wikipedia gives the morbid etymology that fennel fronds were used to perfume the pyres of the executed. That seems a stretch. http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finocchio_(disambigua)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Clearly a piece of etymythology. There’s no hint of evidence for the story, and the slur isn’t attested until long after the Middle Ages. I see some suggestion of a ‘worthless’ sense of finocchio (perhaps because of its commonness; it grows wild in many places), which would provide a natural route to the ‘male homosexual’ sense. But someone would have to comb through evidence of vernacular speech in Italian to nail down any account.

  3. Pasta books « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on pasta (following up on fagottini, here): on two recent books surveying types of pasta, with attention to their physical form: Hildebrand, […]

  4. Pasta books « Arnold Zwicky's Blog | The Cheap Books Web Blog Says:

    […] on pasta (following up on fagottini, here): on two recent books surveying types of pasta, with attention to their physical form: Hildebrand, […]

  5. Slang connotations too unfortunate to explain « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] here, and a smaller list of words (98 of them) that begin with FAG, here. And on this blog, there's my posting on Fagolosi (a brand name of Italian breadsticks), the pasta fagottini (fagottino 'little purse', […]

  6. fag bag | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] We find the poster funny today, especially if we’re American, because of the intrusion of the sexual slur fag, which can contaminate any word with FAG in it, even food names (see “Fag food”). […]

  7. Pasta apologies | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] “Fag food”, on Fagolosi brand pasta and on […]

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