In a Word: Loafing Around in Good Company

The concept of gathering around the dinner table with friends is baked into our language and hiding in plain sight.

Friends eating lunch and drinking wine at a dinner table.

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Managing editor and logophile Andy Hollandbeck reveals the sometimes surprising roots of common English words and phrases. Remember: Etymology tells us where a word comes from, but not what it means today.

 

Whether it’s in a noisy restaurant or around a kitchen table, food is often a focal point around which friends and family gather. This isn’t a modern development: Meals have been bringing friends together for generations, so much so that the link between food and companionship has been baked into the language.

Though we might use the words company and companion to describe the people we enjoy spending time with no matter where we are, their etymological origins take us straight to mealtime. Both words trace their roots to the prefix com- “with” plus the Latin word panis, meaning bread or food. The original companion was a person one regularly broke bread with — that is, a messmate.

So the next time you find yourself sitting down for a meal in good company — perhaps to enjoy an Italian panini or French pain au chocolat — take a moment to reflect on how a long tradition of cementing friendships around the supper table keeps rolling along, and how that tradition has been embedded into our language, hiding in plain sight.

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