French Toast: Not From Albany New York

In my estimation, French toast was most likely not invented by a Joseph French of Albany, New York, in 1724. I do not see and I cannot find any evidence supporting the claims on behalf of Mr. French, though plenty of people are willing to give him credit. In addition, the Oxford English Dictionary has a citation for French toast under the entry for “French,” some 64 years before Mr. French of Albany supposedly coined the term. It appears to be the same food, even if the recipe varies a bit (mainly by the absence of eggs and the soaking after toasting rather than before). From the OED, second edition: “1660 R. MAY Accomplisht Cook VI. 162 French Toasts. Cut French Bread, and toast it in pretty thick toasts on a clean gridiron, and serve them steeped in claret, sack, or any wine, with sugar and juyce of orange.” Most of the entries found on the Internet and in news articles (such as here and here) stem from a single unverified source, a source without attributions, notes, bibliography or any other supporting documents. Such is the nature of amateur etymology: like all received wisdom, people prefer the path of least resistance and are willing to accept it and pass it along without subjecting it to even the most basic process of substantiation. The instant I see a dubious etymology posted on a web site as fact, everything else on the page is immediately devalued. It’s a flag for lack of intellectual rigor.

Posted March 14, 2003

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