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At dictionary.com, there is a bit of an inconsistency in the origins and meaning of two historical variants of the same (probably French) word:

Potage

noun, French Cookery.
1. soup, especially any thick soup made with cream.

Word Origin
C16: from Old French; see pottage.

... and Pottage

noun
1. a thick soup made of vegetables, with or without meat.

Word Origin
1175-1225; Middle English potage < Old French: literally, something in or from a pot.

Do these words refer to different kinds of soup?

Why are there two spelling variants in English?

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  • have you checked etymonline.com? Aug 6, 2017 at 17:32
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    etymonline potage (n.) "thick soup," 1560s, from French potage "soup, broth" (see pottage, which is an earlier English borrowing of the same French word). The etymology seems pretty clear to me. As for the meaning, neither are much used today, and I doubt many people would distinguish them semantically (if they ever did, which also seems unlikely). Aug 6, 2017 at 17:39
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    @FumbleFingers, the difference in meaning (if any), which is what the OP asked about, is what I was referring to as being unclear.
    – vpn
    Aug 6, 2017 at 17:43
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    @FumbleFingers, I think your first thought there is the better one: the distinction is almost entirely a matter of how high they falute (if I may so ape a usage I have seen hereabouts). Yanks like me only shun the double consonant following an unstressed vowel, so the t/tt distinction matters not only for the quantity of the O but for which syllable is accented. We'd no more favor potage as a homophonous alternate spelling of pottage than we favor porage for porridge. Aug 6, 2017 at 18:11
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    OED calls the potage spelling a "later reborrowing of the French word." So that explains why there are two different spellings. Aug 6, 2017 at 21:56

1 Answer 1

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From the following definitions and examples, it is apparent that the two words are the same and that all that distinguishes them is the extra 't'. The version that is now spelled with two 't's, tends to be of English cuisine, and the single 't' of French heritage.

I suspect that at a restaurant, you would pay twice as much for potage compared to pottage.

There is further room for confusion as English spelling did not standardise until the 18th century and is still not complete (compare wagon and waggon).

Pot[t]age: In both cases, they indicate a soup/stew that borders on a paste - pottage more so; potage less so.

OED pottage, n.

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French potage,

I. A soup, stew, or porridge. 1.a. A thick soup or stew, typically made from vegetables, pulses, meat, etc., boiled in water until soft, and usually seasoned. Cf. potage n.

Now chiefly archaic or historical, but occasionally applied to regional dishes.

?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 301 Hwase is ouerfeble. Potage eoteð bliðeliche. [whoever is feverish [will] eat pottage without a problem]

1682 G. Wheler Journey into Greece i. 43 Christmas pies, Plum-potage, Cake and Puddings.

1973 C. A. Wilson Food & Drink in Brit. vi. 206 ‘Bukkenade’ was another meat pottage for veal, kid, hen or coney. It was seasoned with herbs and spices, thickened with egg yolks, and sometimes sharpened with a little verjuice or vinegar.

2. Oatmeal porridge. Now rare (Scottish in later use).

a1500 (▸1422) J. Yonge tr. Secreta Secret. (Rawl.) (1898) 244 (MED) A man Sholde ette mettis of colde and moisti complexcion..as..Potage of oot-mell.

2015 D. Kynoch in Lallans 86 19 His bowel o pottitch steed Far it haed been sin brakfast, nivver aeten.

potage, n.

Etymology: < Middle French, French potage (see pottage n.)

Soup, esp. a thick soup typically made from vegetables, meat, etc. Cf. pottage n.**

In modern use generally denoting a soup of French origin or character.

1653 I. D. G. tr. F. P. de la Varenne French Cook 274 Potage of Brocolis, they are the young sprouts of Coleworts.

1938 Life 6 June 10/3 (caption) Place a thick crusty slice of toast in each petite marmite. Pour the rich, savory-smelling potage over the toast and sprinkle with plenty of grated cheese.

1998 N. Lawson How to Eat (1999) 235 The grainy potage produced by the split peas is wonderfully satisfying.*

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    You might want to add that except for snotty cookbooks, pottage is no longer used much. Maybe if you're writing a historical novel or joking. And potage is just cookbookery.
    – Lambie
    May 28, 2023 at 15:35
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    @Lambie Crockpottery?
    – tchrist
    May 28, 2023 at 17:01

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