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The word date is Greek in origin: it comes ultimately from Greek dáktulos, which meant ‘finger’ or ‘toe’ as well as ‘date’. It is usually assumed that the name comes from the resemblance of dates to fingers, and they have even been likened to the dusky toes of Arab boys, but the more prosaic truth is probably that the leaves of the date-palm look like fingers. A staple of the Middle East for perhaps as long as 50,000 years (the date-palm is said to have 360 different uses—not all of them culinary), the date was known of, and probably known, in Britain by the end of the thirteenth century.

The now rather dated application of the word to a foolish person (as in ‘soppy date’) seems to have originated in the second decade of the twentieth century. Joseph Manchon records it in Le slang: lexique de l'anglais familier et vulgaire (1923): ‘You date! que tu es drôle!

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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