Word Origins – Baguette


In honor of Bastille Day (14th July), I have decided to discuss about one of my favorite French exports: the French bread, which refers to baguette.

For those still unknown to this fact, baguette refers to a long thin loaf of French bread, which is distinguishable by its length and crisp crust. During my visit to Paris some two years ago, I found this emblem of the French cuisine at all places. Today, baguette is synonymous to bread, but that was not the case, earlier.

Linguistically, the word is often translated as “wand” (from the Latin bacillus), and before the bread appeared, it was often used to refer to a magic wand (baguette magique), as well as a glass rod (used in chemistry) or a baton (as in the expression “to lead by the baguette” or baguette de direction which means conductor’s baton). The word also has a host of other meanings, most of which imply a stick-like object: a small thin stick, often flexible (that is, a switch); an emblem of authority; a (musician’s) drumstick; a chopstick; a ramrod; various costume and architectural embellishments; an astrological table; a type of diamond cut; or (slang) legs.

As it happens, it is just possible that the original baguette did resemble a wand (as today’s does not). Still, in English, it seems most appropriate to choose the meaning of “stick”, and in fact common usage has favored this choice.

Image source: Parisiensalon