A Word for All Seasons

While reading a recipe recently, I paused for a moment and thought about the cooking term seasoning.  How is it, I wondered that to season can be a verb, and how is it related to the four seasons of the year?

I then began to think about other ways we used variations on the word season, like saying someone is a seasoned veteran, for example. This one seemed pretty straightforward, and I guessed that it referred to someone who’s lived through many seasons.

I then began to wonder if seasoning food originally meant adding specific seasonal flavours to food, using herbs and spices grown locally during that season. This would then have shifted generally over time to adding anything, usually salt and pepper, to enhance the flavour of food.

This seemed pretty plausible to me, but I still wanted to check it out for sure.

And it turns out my guess wasn’t quite right!

Season comes from the Latin sationem (sowing, planting), which gradually attained the meaning of right time to sow and plant, and then right time, and then period of time, in a more general sense.

To season as a verb comes from the medieval French assaisoner (to ripen, season), probably from the notion of the correct time to reap, rather than sow. This is based on the concept that food tastes better as it ripens (a debatable one at best: give me a nice banana with a hint of green over a spotty browning one any day), and that by seasoning food, we’re making it taste better.

And coming back to my imagined seasoned campaigner, that’s probably based on a similar idea, as someone who’s ripened and improved thanks to their experience.

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