This week’s word is lambaste (also spelled lambast) which I heard used on a radio programme about our recent general election. I always wondered if lambasting somebody had anything to do with basting a leg of lamb with its juices during the roasting process, so I set out on a word hunt (“we’re going to catch a big one, we’re not scared”).
My first question was how should you pronounce lambaste anyhow? The person on the radio said it as lamb-baste (like basting that roast lamb) and that was the one I’d heard before. So I was surprised to discover that this time the more common Irish pronunciation is the US version. We usually lean towards UK pronunciations, but not this time. The UK pronunciation has the baste part sounding more like Bast, the Egyptian god of cats. If you’re curious you can listen to both versions here.
Lambaste is an older word than I expected. It entered English in the early 1600s and started with a physical sense of reprimand, rather than the verbal/figurative version I would associate it with today. The verb baste meant to thrash or beat something. The addition of the old verb lam, which also meant to beat, was a way of doubling up the strength of lambasting, essentially it was a doubly hard beating. In fact a lam was also a noun, for a heavy blow, used from the late 1500s. Both lam and baste have possible Old Norse roots. Baste may have been a word for whipping and lam was a verb for making somebody lame. The same lam gives us the idea of an escapee being “on the lam“, literally “beating it” along the road.
Basting in the culinary sense has different roots, French in fact, and is an even older word. Basting meat while cooking arose in the late 1300s and probably comes from the Old French verb basser (to moisten or soak) which is also connected to the word basin in English. Hence lambasting has nothing to do with lamb roasts.
If you lambasted somebody in the 1600s you were thrashing them physically, but around the late 1800s the idea softened somewhat and you could give them a tongue-lashing instead which is the most frequent use of lambasting now.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,