Word of the Day: Carbonado

November 11, 2011 in Word of the Day

After a slight hiatus, the Word of the Day returns to its favourite, culinary, hunting grounds with a word, drawn from Spanish and Italian, which means “A piece of meat or fish scored across and grilled over coals.” As the OED goes on to note, the word is “frequent in extended use”, a fact amply demonstrated by Shakespeare’s use of the term, since the closest he gets to designating food with the term is with The Winter’s Tale and Autolycus selling his ballads:

AUTOLYCUS Here’s one to a very doleful tune. How a usurer’s wife was brought to bed of twenty money-bags at a burden, and how she long’d to eat adders’ heads and toads carbonadoed.

Everywhere else in Shakespeare’s works, the ‘extended use’ is almost always an insulting one. Used as a verb, ‘carbonado’ means “to cut, slash or hack”, and sometimes to grill, as though one were making a Italian fish dish out of one’s adversaries. Thus Kent’s threat to Oswald in King Lear is particularly graphic about the courtier’s skinny legs:

KENT Draw, you rascal: you come with letters against the king; and take vanity the puppet’s part against the royalty of her father: draw, you rogue, or I’ll so carbonado your shanks: – draw, you rascal; come your ways!

Whilst the Clown of All’s Well that Ends Well suspects that such harsh treatment has already been given to Lafeu’s visage, which he calls a “carbonadoed face”. Given that ‘carbon’ (coal) is visible in ‘carbonadoed’ and ‘fire’ (‘feu’ in French) visible in Lafeu, the Clown is also playing on the lordling’s name here. No such subtlety for Falstaff who is simply terrified of meeting a gristly end as he blusters away on the battlefield of Henry IV part I.

FAL Well, if Percy be alive, I’ll pierce him. If he do come in my way, so; if he do not, if I come in his willingly, let him make a carbonado of me. I like not such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath: give me life; which if I can save, so; if not, honour comes unlooked for, and there’s an end.

Two final observations on this word. First, it only ever appears in prose, hinting at both the word’s tongue-twisting qualities and its potentially lower register. Second, as a verb and as a noun, it bears the shameful ‘obs.’ in the OED. Please, therefore, kind reader, bring it out of obsolescence, and threaten to carbonado either your fishes or your foes.

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