Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.






Comments are OPEN.

We deeply appreciate the erudition and energy of our commenters. Your comments frequently make an invaluable contribution to the story of words and phrases in everyday usage over many years.

Please note that comments are moderated, and will sometimes take a few days to appear.



shameless pleading






C’mon, kitty, cats love eggplant

Dear Word Detective: I recently received a mail-order catalog offering, among other things I don’t need, “vintage salvers” gleaned from the “famous clubs of West End London.” The “salvers” are small silver plates, each bearing the club’s insignia. At $150 per plate, I don’t plan on buying too many of these, but I’m curious: where does the term “salver” come from? — K.W., Columbus, OH.

When you really stop to think about just what’s involved in obtaining those “salvers,” the price doesn’t seem so unreasonable. After all, there’s the special jacket with extra-deep pockets to be commissioned, the bribe to the club steward, and, don’t forget, the rental for the getaway car. At least that’s how I got mine. They’re perfect for feeding the cats, incidentally — they make the little fellows feel really special.

Of course, the whole point of “salvers” is to make someone feel special, whether a household pet or a doddering London club member being served his brandy on one. Most of us only encounter the broad flat plates called “salvers” at parties, where they are often used to serve canap s or appetizers.

The word “salver” itself comes from the French “salve,” in turn based on the Latin “salvare,” meaning “to save.” You sometimes hear that “salvers” are so named because they “save” one’s clothes or carpet from spills, but the actual derivation is slightly more dramatic than that. “Salvers” were originally the platters used to serve food or drink to a monarch after it had been sampled by the official court taster and certified as free of poison.

Official tasters have become pass in the last century or so, but perhaps they’ll make a comeback now that scientists have decided that almost everything we eat is bad for us even if it isn’t deliberately poisoned. I just hope my cats don’t get the idea that I’m going to start testing their food for them. It’s their job to test mine.


Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please support
The Word Detective

by Subscribing.


Follow us on Twitter!




Makes a great gift! Click cover for more.

400+ pages of science questions answered and explained for kids -- and adults!