since writing in passing yesterday about fudge, in connection with Oh Henry bars,* i have been reminded that this is the second time in a matter of days that the uncertain status of fudge has come up. looking at a package of Fudge-Covered Ritz that a friend brought back from America, i wondered aloud what it was that made them fudge-covered as opposed to chocolate-covered. she speculated (forgive me, Camilla, if this was more than idle speculation on your part) that it was because they weren’t made with real chocolate, and i could well imagine that the big wheels down at the Ritz (factory) would have no truck with such obviously second-rate language as “chocolatey.” fudge, in this case seems an inspired evasion, then.
but thinking about Oh Henrys and how alien the ‘fudge’ therein has always seemed to my image of fudge got me wondering What Up With Fudge, Anyway? what makes fudge, and where does it come from? i ended up having to haul out both tomes of my OED, because curiously “fudge” in the present usage only makes it into the supplement of the 1971 edition, appearing on page 3,972 of vol. 2, as the fifth sense of the word: “A soft-grained sweetmeat prepared by boiling together milk, sugar, butter, and chocolate or maple sugar.” of US origin, 1897.
the rest of the not inconsiderable space devoted to fudge has to with the term as something shouted to express incredulity or disfavour: “Contemptible nonsense, ‘stuff’, bosh,” or the not altogether different:
To fit together in a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner; . . . To make (a problem) look as if it had been correctly worked, by altering figures; to conceal the defects of (a map or other drawing) by adjustment of the parts, so that no glaring disproportion is observed; and in other like uses.
both of which meanings i had always assumed followed upon the confectionary use, although it appears that these others enjoy priority by a good two hundred or so years. both senses are of obscure, and potentially unrelated origin, although options include the namesake of some lying pig of a 17th-century English captain, and still curiouser, “An onomatopoeic alteration of FADGE v., with the vowel expressive of more clumsy action.” not to interrupt your head-scratching, because it took me a minute to figure this one out too, but fadge is an obsolete term meaning to fit well, or make fit well, get along, fit well into place. fudge, then, is almost its opposite, a clumsy dissembling of fadge: so, fudge is a fudging of the word fadge.
i know, right?
so on top of this, a few hundred years later you have American boarding school debs applying the term to a delicious sugary confection that gradually makes its way into the lexicon, as i understand it, as a thing-in-itself. because perhaps i’m just out of the loop on this, but do people in general think of fudge the food as being some kind of chump job meant to pull one over? what is it trying to pass itself off as? it’s a brown square. but then, regardless, what happens is we have fudge coming back in as a sort of ersatz or pretend chocolate, implying in some parallel material-semiotic** fashion that fudge is a fudging of chocolate, or some other confection!
egad. what a twist!
* and only realizing now that my digression into the subtle comedy of failure could have been parlayed into some reference to the presence of such a thing in the writings of O. Henry, in that such clever twists often turn on some tragicomic or ironic failure, the most famous of which probably being “Gift of the Magi.” it’s a bit of a stretch, but that i should write about something effectively aesthetic, albeit arguably existential, associated with eating an Oh Henry bar, that in turn reminds me of the stories of O. Henry fits too well into this fudge loop (as, if you are reading this footnote inserted in the text, you will see; or if at the end, you have seen) to go unmentioned.
** not in the Actor-Network Theory way, so much as just the way that you’d figure if you tried to figure out what ‘material semiotics’ would look like. although hell, maybe that is the Actor-Network Theory way? or maybe just paronomasia?***
*** yes, paronomasia just means pun, and no, i can’t provide a single solid justification for using the word instead of pun, -except- that i appreciate how the former word (by its being obscure and five-to-six syllables) suggests some of the complexity that is bound up in a good pun. i mean come on, you can’t like word play and not like the word paronomasia. it’s play just to say it.