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Q From Jay Coughlin: Can you tell me if the word tracklements is just obsolete or a non-word?

A It’s a real word, a delightful one. It’s not obsolete, but it’s not widely known; it is used almost exclusively in Britain, and not especially often there. It refers to any kind of savoury condiment served with meat, such as rowan jelly. I first learned the word when we bought a pot of mustard many years ago from the Tracklement Company, and in databases the word turns up most often in that firm’s name.

Even among cookery writers it seems to be an occasional relish to enliven prose. A rare sighting comes from the Independent newspaper in February 1999: “In the best of Kosher kitchens, another delicious relish made from beetroot and horseradish (known as chrain) is the traditional tracklement to both boiled tongue and beef”.

The English cookery writer Dorothy Hartley claimed to have invented the word, which she used for the first time in her book Food in England in 1954. She said that she had borrowed it from an English dialect word meaning “appurtenances, impedimenta”. The problem for those tracking down its antecedents is that the dialect word concerned is not easy to identify unambiguously.

There are several possibilities. One is the Yorkshire word tranklement, which has numerous variant spellings. This means “ornaments, trinkets; bits of things”. It appears in Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary of 1906, and in several other dialect glossaries of the period for places like Sheffield, Huddersfield and Leeds. Joseph Wright also records the related word tanchiments from Cheshire and Lancashire with a similar meaning, and a similar one exists in the Birmingham and Black Country dialects.

The founder of the Tracklement Company, William Tullberg, tells me that his Lincolnshire grandmother used the word tracklement to describe meat accompaniments, but that her use “included roast potatoes, roast parsnips, Yorkshire pudding and gravy as well as the horseradish sauce”.

We’ve no way of knowing for sure which of these is the word that Ms Hartley had in mind when she coined her new term, but it looks highly plausible that it is the Yorkshire one. But that it has survived is at least as much due to Mr Tullberg’s borrowing of the word from Lincolnshire.

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Page created 10 Mar 2001; Last updated 18 May 2002