20 November 2007

First English Usages of 'Barbecue'

The latest issue of Southern Culture (vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 138-146; Project Muse subscription required) contains an article by John Shelton Reed entitled There's a Word for It—The Origins of "Barbecue" that contains this little gem.
The earliest use of the English word that I've encountered comes from 1661, when Edmund Hickeringill's Jamaica Viewed reported that animals "are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu'd and eat," but by 1689 in a play called THE Widdow Ranter OR, The HISTORY of Bacon in Virginia, "the rabble" fixing to lynch one Colonel Wellman cry, "Let's barbicu this fat rogue." That the word could be used casually on the stage shows that by then it must have been familiar to London audiences. (The play was written by the remarkable Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to be a professional writer, and "Bacon" in the title refers to the leader of Bacon's Rebellion of 1676, not to side meat.) About the same time, the Boston Puritan Cotton Mather used the word in the same gruesome sense when he reported that several hundred Narragansetts slaughtered by New England troops in 1675 (among them women, children, and elders burned in their lodges) had been "terribly Barbikew'd."

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