We were looking at the menu of a very nice London restaurant on Saturday when one of my co-lunchers exclaimed:
"Monkfish tail "en marmite"??! Whaaaat? Fish in Marmite?"
Tut tut. Those Engleesh.
I reassured my friend: "Of course not. Marmite is French for "cooking pot". So I expect they serve it in a nice earthenware cooking pot."
Stunned silence.
"Marmite is a French word?" said Kate in an is-nothing-sacred-anymore quivering voice.
"Well… yes."
"Actually, the pot is shaped like a cauldron."
"Yes, but I wonder why they picked that word?"
So did I, so I looked it up. It turns out that marmite is a very interesting word indeed. It used to be an adjective that meant hypocrite and was formed of marm- (of marmotter, to mumble), a murmuring sound, and mite, the cat’s name in le Roman de renart. This etymology is very odd, but it’s the best explanation I could find. One may suppose that cats are often seen as hypocritical, purring one second and scratching you within an inch of your life the next. The marmite, deep and closed with a lid, hides its content, hence the hypocrisy link.
Why this word was chosen for the yeast extract product we all love or hate is a bit of a mystery. Anyone know?