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Mind your language

Why would you relish an opportunity?

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

The Sun gave a sad picture of British loneliness recently in a report about the national yearning to play a board game like Monopoly, which could only be fulfilled about five times a year when someone could be found to play it with. In passing, the paper remarked: ‘Two-thirds of Brits would also relish the opportunity to play a life-size version of their favourite board game.’

Whether or not this unlikely claim is true, there’s an awful lot of relishing going on these days, and opportunity is usually the thing relished. What, according to the Telegraph gardening pages, will you do with the opportunity for a relaxed afternoon in such a blissful spot as Longwitton Hall, Northumberland? What, predicted the sports pages of the Times, would Uruguay do with the opportunity to end Cristiano Ronaldo’s tournament? Why, relish both these things of course. Just at the moment it is opportunity that is usually relished, rather than horseradish.


Talking of horseradish, I mentioned last week that the word petrichor resembled serendipity in this respect: both appeal to people by seeming to speak to them of another world. Another irrational favourite is tracklement. It means ‘accompaniment to meat’, a relish if you like, and in her 1954 book Food in England Dorothy Hartley claimed to have invented it, or at least picked it up from an old dialect term for ‘impedimenta’. Yet no trace of any such old word has ever been found.

Anyway relish has its own odd history, being a form of an obsolete word relese (etymologically identical to release), derived from French relais. So relais was the grandmother to two words with completely different meanings: release and relish. The meaning ‘tastiness’ was a development paralleled, the dictionary tells me, by the surviving use of relais in the French spoken on Jersey.

The Oxford English Dictionary does not contain the phrase relish the opportunity anywhere in its 291,500 entries or 2,436,600 illustrative quotations. It does quote the phrase jump at the chance a couple of times, which must, I suppose, come before relishing it. Carpe diem requires both catching your hare and jugging it before you relish it.


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