19 May 2014

How the Greeks Invented Hash

The longest word in the Greek, or for that matter any language, was invented by Aristophanes in his comedy Ecclesiazusae, the ‘Assemblywomen’. It’s a hell of a play, something so sardonic and up-to-date it would work on the stages of New York or London today. In it, the women of Athens take over, instituting a golden age of communistic rule and free love, except that before a man could spend a night with a young pretty girl, he had to submit to all the old, wrinkled, randy ones.

It seems the end of the play is lost. As we have it, Aristophanes leaves us pretty much in limbo, with the citizens of the new democratic paradise rushing to the dining hall to get a seat for a taste of:


Scholars plumbing the depths of this word have discovered within it salt fish, rotted dogshead, honey, thrushes, pigeons, crabs, chicken wings, rabbit, ‘sharp sauce’, blackbirds, new wine and much else. One careful critic has defined it as ‘a hash composed of all the leftovers from the meals of the leftovers from the meals of the last two weeks’.

The rest of the story is provided by Eugene Field, the American poet and philosopher  best known for The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat and Wynken, Blynken and Nod. In a column for the Chicago Daily News, Field discussed the heretofore unknown fate of the famous, long-winded dish:

We have it from private sources that this name was discontinued by royal order soon after Theseus took the throne. It happened in this wise: When Theseus came back from his bull-fight with the Minotaur he naturally strolled into a restaurant in the basement of the Parthenon and asked for a plate of the fashionable dish. Before the waiter had time to pronounce the word the king was almost starved to death. He had just strength enough left to draw his antestylographic pen from his vest pocket and write a royal order in these words: "Henceforth and forever let lopadotemach-etc. be called hash, under penalty of death." The order has never been revoked.

If anyone can supply the original recipe, we offer a small prize.

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