Aug 30, 2014

Wordology, Napkin

When eating bacon with your fingers, you need a napkin. The word comes from Middle English, borrowing the French nappe, a cloth covering for a table and adding kin, the diminutive suffix. The English word napkin means, “A usually square piece of cloth, paper, etc., used at a meal to wipe the fingers and lips and to protect the clothes”

That same “nappe,” led to the English “apron,” which was originally “napron.” Through a linguistic process the initial “n” of “napron” in the phrase “a napron” shifted and produced “an apron.”

The use of paper napkins is documented in ancient China, where paper was invented in the 2nd century BC. In Roman times, each guest supplied his own mappa and, on departure it was filled with delicacies leftover from the feast. German-speaking people were reputed to be such neat diners that they seldom used a napkin.

In the United Kingdom and Canada both terms, serviette and napkin, are used. In Australia, 'serviette' generally refers to the paper variety and napkin refers to the cloth variety.

There is no relation to taking a nap or snooze during the day, that 'nap' comes from the Old English word 'hnappian', meaning “to doze or sleep lightly.”