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The meaning and origin of the expression: Hodge-podge

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Hodge-podge

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hodge-podge'?

A 'Hodge-podge' is a stew made with meat and a variety of vegetables. The term is also used to refer to any mixture of ingredients or more widely to mean a mess.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Hodge-podge'?

Hodge-podge is one of the oldest reduplicated phrases in English. It didn't start out in England though. To trace the expression back to its origins we need to move our attention to 14th century France.

The French had a dish called hotchpot. This name derived from the Anglo-Norman word hocher meaning 'to shake'. So, a hotchpot was a dish made in a pot and shaken up, that is, mixed together - what we today would call a casserole or hotpot.

Hotchpot was integrated into English as hotchpotch. The first reference to this dish in English is a recipe for Gees in Hochepot [Goose Hotchpot] in the cookbook Curye on Inglysch [English cookery], 1381. My Middle English isn't good enough to give an exact translation but the gist of it is:

Scald the goose and chop it into small pieces. Fry it in its own fat, add onions and boil.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Hodge-podge'.We are now well on our linguistic journey towards hodge-podge. In the 15th century hotchpot became hodgepot.

It may be that the use of hodge was influenced by the common name Hodge, which was a familiar form of Roger. Roger was the typical name of a poor peasant in medieval England and the rustic potage eaten by 'Roger' might well have been thought of as 'hodgepot'.

Hodgepot is mentioned first in another cookbook - Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, circa 1430. Coincidentally the entry is for the same recipe, now called A Goos in Hogepotte. My best attempt at the translation from Middle English is:

Take a goose, clean it, chop it into pieces and put it in a pot and boil. Then take pepper and stale bread and grind in ginger, galingale [a spice] and cumin and mix up with ale. Mince onions, fry them and add with a portion of wine.

There's not a lot to choose between those two recipes and I'd like to bet that there was a bit of medieval cutting and pasting going on there.

Even at that early date the figurative meaning of hodgepot, that is, a meaning not involving cooking or pots, was being used. The earliest example I can find of that is in the Swiss reformist theologian Heinrich Bullinger's A Hundred Sermons upon the Apocalips, 1561:

Many at this day make an hogepotche of papistrie and the Gospell.

Of course, it's a short step from hodgepot to hodge-podge. There are several uses of 'hodge podge' as two separate words in the 16th century, mostly in a religious context. The first example that I know of which uses the hyphenated spelling we now use takes us back to the kitchen. That's in the Spanish writer Mateo Alemán's  The Rogue, 1622:

At supper we had a sallat, but a very poore one, and a great deale of chopt greene stuffe, amongst it; for they would not lose so much as the greene leaves of a radish root, or the blade of an onion, whereof they would not make use, pouring a little unsavory oyle into it, and a little vinegar, whereof the one halfe was water, the lettice were onely thinnely spred upon the top, with two or three carrets, with a little marjoram or pennyroyall mixed with it; they were wont sometimes to intermixe with it a hodge-podge of boyled mutton that was nothing but mammocks [shreds].

Sounds more hedge-podge than hodge-podge. Not as appetising as Gees in Hochepot perhaps.

So, next time someone says that you casserole is a bit of a hodge-podge, you can always say "That's okay, it's supposed to be".