Food Facts & Lore, Fricassee of Words

Fricassee of Words – He Was Born With a Silver Spoon in His Mouth!

Fricassee: Meat cut into pieces and stewed in gravy.

Fricassee of Words: Musings on food-inspired expressions, words and word play, with occasional bits and pieces of kitchen jargon too.

Don’t stir the pot, go fry an egg, two eggs in a basket are better than one hen in the bush… you get the picture by now, and here is today’s food-inspired expression for us to pick at.

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Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth

Meaning – Born into wealth.

Larger Meaning – Born into good fortune. One who does not have to contribute anything in order to earn his or her keep.

The phrase “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth” first appears in print in Cervantes’ Don Quixote (published in 1605), more precisely in the 1719 translation by Peter Anthony Motteux where one can read the following passage: “Tis not all gold that glisters [sic], and every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

Rewind to the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries). At that time, and until full place settings become the norm in the 1700’s, it was common for people to go about with their own eating implements, generally a knife and a spoon. These were carried on one’s person as we carry wallets and cell phones today (was there ever a discussion about operating a carriage while fidgeting with one’s spoon?). Owning a silver spoon was an indication of one’s social standing, most often as a landlord.

Now, consider the working class, more specifically the farmers and craftsmen who labored long hours and got their hands dirty, literally. Serfs and slaves did not have access to fine metal utensils. Thus showing up at an inn without the proper silver spoon immediately singled them out as being of a lesser class and thus having fewer rights. By the same token, an individual whose hands revealed his labors might have been suspected of thievery if he produced a silver spoon.

Interestingly, the silver spoon is by no means associated with the highest class. Rather, it belonged to the daily artillery of common tools of the lower-middle class.

Silver spoons, like silver platters (bringing to mind another popular expression), were also used among the ruling class as a means to detect poison, often used by enemies to attain political goals, or by disloyal servants in retaliation. Arsenic was the poison of choice. Silver tarnishes when it comes in contact with arsenic sulfides.

Silver has another interesting characteristic: It has antimicrobial properties. In short, it is self-sanitizing. We might question this based on our current awareness of microbial infections. However, Medieval folks surely did not scrub their silver spoons clean with powerful detergents after every meal (rubbing it along a sleeve was more like it) and there is no indication of lives being shortened due to dirty spoons.

Maybe this gives a slightly new twist to the expression, “Being born with a silver spoon in your mouth.” It could refer to one who is impervious to adversity and challenges. Take it one step further even. Who says we cannot boldly act as though we were born with a silver spoon in our mouths? The next time you sit at a table for a meal, let the silver spoon remind you of your own great skills and accomplishments.

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