Eight I hold here in my mitt
But one of them just doesn’t fit.
In one of our MyWord games the other day Brigitte gave me FISHMONGER. The word came from one of her many, many word-lists, but later she discovered that Michael Gilleland had posted the picture of a lovely vase showing a fishmonger on Laudator (link) earlier that day. Nice coincidence—and then discussion. That word is still in circulation, obviously, but when was the last time we’ve heard anyone say, heading out to Kroger or to Ace Hardware, that he or she was going to visit the fishmonger or ironmonger. In such contexts a monger is a seller, dealer, merchant, or trader.
I concluded that a different use of the word—in the political sphere—as in warmonger or scaremonger, would be much more common. Brigitte was not so sure. Well, these days, Google Ngrams (a facility that tracks the usage of words in print back to 1800) can resolve disputes. Turned out that Brigitte’s hunch was better. In 2000, both fishmonger and ironmonger were much more used in print than warmonger. But the meaning in the latter case is more akin to “promoter,” “activist,” or agent provocateur.
Monger comes from the Latin mango, meaning salesman and, especially, slave-dealer. I got curious about other words with a similar spelling, like manager and merchant. Manager has its roots in the Latin for hand, manus. Our own usage comes from the Italian maneggiare, meaning to handle, particularly a horse. Merchant derives from the Latin mercatus, thus the market, trade, and such. Last and definitely least, I got to wondering if “manger” has some linkage to “monger.” The two words are spelled almost the same way. Furthermore, we link manger so closely to Christian origins, we tend to overlook its actual function: presenting fodder to our beasts. And yes. That is the origin. It comes from the Old French for mangier, “to eat,” to which the suffix -oire was added (mangeoire). The suffix signifies some kind of implement or device: eating-thing, eating-device—the word, in my revised nursery rhyme, which doesn’t fit.