Adventures in Etymology – Jelly

Today we are uncovering the origins of the word jelly.

Strawberry Jelly

Jelly [ˈd͡ʒɛl.i] is:

  • a dessert made by boiling gelatin(e), sugar and some flavouring (often derived from fruit) and allowing it to set (In the UK, Australia and NZ) – known as jello in North America (see below)
  • A clear or translucent fruit preserve, made from fruit juice and set using either naturally occurring, or added, pectin.

Note: there are various kinds of fruit preserves with different names in different countries. For example, what people in North America call jelly, might be called jam in the UK. More details.

Jelly comes from the Middle English gele [dʒɛˈleː] (jelly made from meat stock), from the Old French gelee (a cold spell, period of coldness), from geler (to freeze, become very cold), from the Latin gelāre (to freeze), from gelō (I freeze) from gelū (frost),from the PIE *gel- (to be cold, to freeze) [source].

Related words in English include gel, gelatin, gelid (very cold, icy, frosty), glacier, cold, cool, chill and congeal [source].

In North America the dessert made from gelatine and flavoured with fruit is known as jello. It was invented and trademarked by Pearle Bixby Wait in New York in 1897 as JELL-O. Since then the name has become genericized and is used to refer to any brand of fruit flavored gelatin dessert mix [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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