World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /wɪɡ/Help with IPA

On Good Friday 1664, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary, “Home to the only Lenten supper I have had of wiggs and ale.” Though they were sometimes said to be like Good Friday buns, ancestors of hot-cross buns, wiggs seem to have been linked not only with the end of Lent but with other special occasions, too; Clement Miles noted in his book Christmas in Ritual and Tradition in 1912, “In Shropshire ‘wigs’ or caraway buns dipped in ale were eaten on Christmas Eve.” They were also recorded as being associated with St Andrew’s Day on 30 November, for some reason notably in Bedfordshire.

A Lincolnshire variation on an old children’s rhyme goes:

Tom, Tom, the baker’s son,
Stole a wig and away he run;
The wig was eat, and Tom was beat,
And Tom went roaring down the street.

In the nineteenth century, wiggs (or wigs or whigs; spellings have been very variable) were widely known and equally widely variable in their recipes. Caraway was one constituent mentioned in some parts of Britain (these were presumably the type recorded in The Tale of Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter: “But a person cannot live on ‘seed wigs’ and sponge cake and butter buns”); in other places it was said they should be sweet and contain currants (though in northern England this was a spice wig, a plain wig being without them). In Lincolnshire, plums were considered to be a vital ingredient (though currants were meant, as in plum pudding), while in Hampshire honey was essential. On the other hand, the austere burghers of Bristol said a wigg was a local name for a plain halfpenny bun. They were nearest its origin, since a wigg was at first simply a fine wheaten loaf lacking these later elaborations.

Most recorders of this dialectal term said that wiggs should be long or oval, though in 1900 The Farringdons by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler includes the line, “Elisabeth helped herself to one of the three-cornered cakes, called ‘wigs.’” Etymologically speaking they should be wedge-shaped, as the word is from old Germanic wigge, a relative of wegge, from which wedge is derived. The word is recorded from about 1375.

Page created 29 Mar. 2008

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 29 March 2008.