• hamburger •
Pronunciation: hæm-bêr-gêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Ground beef. 2. A round patty of ground beef, usually though not necessarily served between two slices of bread or in a bun with condiments (mustard, ketchup, pickles or relish, tomatoes, and lettuce are among the favorites).
Notes: Today's Good Word long ago fell victim to 'folk etymology', a misanalysis of a borrowed word that makes it more recognizable. Even though it originates as the German derivation meaning something from the city of Hamburg (Hamburg-er), English speakers immediately (mis)perceived the word ham in it and began replacing that word with so many others that burger finally became a word on its own.
In Play: I only wish I had a nickel for every hamburger that will be cooked and consumed in the US this Fourth of July. The all-American hamburger is by far the favorite food for celebrating US Independence Day, despite its origin (see the Word History).
Word History: In the 13th and 14th centuries Turkic tribes known as Tatars roamed across the plains of what today is Russia. They were known for chopping meat (probably because it was tough), mixing it with spices (to hide any spoilage), and eating it raw. This idea gravitated to the German town of Hamburg, which became famous for its beefsteak Tatar, ground beef served with onions and spices without benefit of the flame. When this 'Hamburg steak' reached the US, it was generally served cooked. The expression Hamburger steak first appeared in the January 5, 1889 edition of the Walla Walla (Washington) Union. The steak was soon dropped, but it wasn't until the 1930s that the word cheeseburger appeared, and by 1939 hamburger had been shortened to burger. At that point, a flood of compounds with this new word began to appear: fishburger, turkeyburger, baconburger, and so on and on and on. (Today's Good Word comes to us courtesy of Dr. Goodword, himself, a Pennsylvania Lewisburger.)