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The Digressions of dr sanscravat

Smidgens on the Grass, Alas
(e-pistle: 26 June 96)

From the desk of Balderdash, Poppycock & O'Pish, Etymological and Gastronomical Investigators

Re: Your recent query concerning the origins of the word "smidgen," as used by a "waitress" of your accquaintance.

While this query did not contain promise of any substantial remuneration, there were circumscribed elements that suggested that the investigation might prove otherwise profitable. Certainly, the fact that the initial search proved to be totally ineffectual was a goad to our professional urges. Consequently (and despite, we might add, your use of the unacceptably gender-specific "waitress"), we have decided to pursue the matter further.

One of our free-lancers turned up a connection, by way of "smidge," with the Old English "smitch." This turned out to be a corruption of the earlier "smutch." While these suggested a number of Anglo-Saxon sounding words that hinted at (if one is predisposed to recognize such things) vile bodily functions, we regretfully put them aside for a future foray, and returned to the clues we had in hand.

It turns out that the reason these were not immediately accessible was that we were somewhat misled by your waitperson's application of the word to a fluid substance (to whit, coffee). If, however, one thinks of some of the cognates of this root, such as "smudge,""smear," "besmirch," and the Jewish deli-man's "schmeer" (as in cream cheese on a bagel), it all begins to fall into place. A "smitch" is a particle or bit. A "smutch" is a slight mark or stain. Had your waitperson offered a "smidgen" of soft butter, jam, pate or ripe brie, the problem would have been, as we used to say, "intuitively obvious to the casual observer."

We trust that you have found the above report useful. While we could almost wish for this work to have been performed pro bono -- which, contrary to all expectations, refers neither to a rock musician nor to a Latin expression meaning "for the bonehead" -- we will instead (as is our custom) put it on your tab (invoice under separate cover).

As ever, we remain, true to our words,

Dr. Sanscravat,
Senior Investigator

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