So a couple of weeks ago an 18-wheeler in Australia spilled hundreds of pounds of animal guts on a freeway ramp. A friend of mine said, “That’s just offal,” which made me laugh and also annoyed me because I wished I’d come up with that pun, and I probably would have if my friend hadn’t gotten to it sooner. Because my wife and I feed our dogs the appropriately named BARF diet—that’s supposedly an acronym for Bones And Raw Food but I think whoever came up with this started with the name and made it a backronym—I’ve handled more raw chicken than any one person should. For a while we’d get forty-pound boxes of chicken necks and if that weren’t bad enough they’d come frozen in a block of ice. And if that weren’t bad enough sometimes I’d find the occasional chicken head which just makes it even more plausible that chicken heads have turned up in KFC buckets, but that’s another story.
To get the bulk chicken necks I’d have to go to kind of a sketchy warehouse in kind of a sketchy part of town, always early in the morning, and depending on the time of year I’d get there before dawn, but I was reassured that there was at least one other person who also came to pick up bulk chicken parts. She had two enormous Boxers and I know this because she had them in the back seat of her car one morning and they were very excited to meet the man who brought out the boxes of chicken and almost blew out the tires jumping up and down.
So anyway I have some experience with offal, and the real reason I’m annoyed my friend got to that pun first is several years ago handling all that raw chicken made me wonder if there was any connection between “awful” and “offal”. One’s abject, the other’s an object, and the similarity in sound seemed too much of a coincidence for them to be unrelated. And the answer is (drumroll please) they’re totally unrelated.
Awful comes from Old English, originally a word that was closer to “eye-full”, which also led to “awe” because it meant “awesome”, so the next time someone tells you you’re awful you can say “Thank you.”
Offal comes from Dutch and German words that meant “refuse, waste, parings, shavings”, literally stuff that fell off.
So that was a fun train of thought and they probably wish they’d shipped that offal by train and by the way on December 21st, also in Australia, a truckload of salmon was dumped on a bridge so please be careful the next time you ask a truck driver to spill their guts.