Seafood

Another dish from Reposado in Palo Alto:

CREPAS CON MARISCOS
Housemade blue corn crepes filled with fresh crab, shrimp & red snapper, asadero cheese, poblano cream sauce, jasmine rice with roasted corn

on the menu; also known as enchiladas con mariscos:

(Photo by diner Randy F.)

Now about mariscos ‘seafood’. And in fact about English seafood.

The English mass noun seafood (a N + N compound) is only 19th century, and according to OED2 is originally and still chiefly U.S.:

Food obtained from the sea; fish, crustacea, etc., used as food. [first cite 1836]

The noun usefully labels a large and zoologically pretty diverse category of food that is often served together (as in soups and stews as well as in those crepas) and is now sold in the same section of American markets.

(The noun is now often extended further, to cover edible fresh-water aquatic creatures as well as saltwater ones.)

In Spanish, the noun (based on masc. mar ‘sea’, with a derivational affix) seems to occur mostly in the plural (as in crepas con mariscos), but is also cited as a singular mass noun marisco in dictionaries. I’d guess that, like seafood, it is a relatively recent coinage, but I know nothing about the history or about the way the two items are used, especially in different varieties of Spanish.

4 Responses to “Seafood”

  1. Alon Lischinsky Says:

    Marisco is actually a very old term, attested all the way back to Old Spanish (c. 1250).

    The morphology is adjectival; -isco, cognate to English -esque, was a very productive suffix to indicate origin or provenance (as in levantisco ‘from the Levant, Eastern’, or chinesco ‘Chinese’), though it’s quite old-fashioned these days. The purely compositional meaning would be ‘from, or pertaining to, the sea’. All the early (i.e., 13th–15th century) examples I’ve been able to find use the term as a noun, though, meaning unambiguously ‘shellfish’ (often in coordination with pescado ‘fish‘). That doesn’t seem surprising, given that OS already had a good number of adjectives vying for the same semantic slot (marino, marinero, marítimo), and specialisation is the usual result in those conditions.

    Alternately, it could be the OS reflex of Low Latin mariscus~marescus ‘wetland; pool’ (the etymon of French marais and cognate with English marsh), though it would be hard to explain the semantic shift.

  2. Alon Lischinsky Says:

    As to the count vs mass issue, the data are pretty noisy, but Google NGrams suggests that the count form is more common.

    There’s probably some dialectal variation: according to CORDE, my native Rioplatense dialect only accepts the count form, but several others alternate, and Peninsular Spanish actually seems to prefer the mass version. There’s a dearth of good comparative Spanish corpora, though, so these results should be taken with a pinch of salt (and, considering the topic, probably a wedge or two of lemon as well).

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