Wednesday, 12th February 2014

by Joshua Gaskell

I see adverts for all sorts of things claiming that this or that product works out at ‘less than the price of a daily cup of coffee’. Rather than the cheapness of the product in question, the most pertinent take-home message from these adverts is what a waste of money it is to buy a cup of hot froth every day.

I go on to the Starbucks website to see how much a normal latte is, and it’s telling that they’re not. However, I am treated to the following factoid: ‘The first English language use of the term caffè latte is credited to American author William Dean Howells in his 1867 essay “Italian Journeys.”’

Firstly, Italian Journeys is not an essay, it’s a travel-book or travelogue, containing a series of essays or sketches. Secondly, the OED’s first quotation under caffè latte is dated 1847, and is from the Cultivator, ‘a monthly journal devoted to agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, and to domestic and rural economy’. The OED does not credit the writer of the piece, perhaps because the Cultivator attributes it simply to “Caius”. But I think Caius was a penname used by Donald Grant Mitchell (1822-1908), whom the OED quotes extensively. He also coined the word oversentimental.

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WEBMASTER

He’s failed to spot that the quote from the Cultivator refers to “caffe latto”. This is a form of caffè latte (hence its inclusion in the dictionary entry), but it means that technically Starbucks is not wrong on that count.

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