Seeking the Origin of Frappuccino

“You’re right,” said de Sica. “That wasn’t my real question. So how much is it going to cost to get some answers?”

“I make two-fifty a day, plus all the Frappuccinos I can drink…if I’m lucky.”

He pulled a wallet from the inside pocket of his Levi’s jacket, peeled off three bills and slapped them on the table. He started in the direction of the barista, a skinny kid of indeterminate gender with a pierced lip and lopsided magenta hair.

“Nix,” I called him back. “I know my limit. No more Frappuccinos.” I sucked the last dregs of sugar-water from the bottom of my cup.

“Shouldn’t that be Frappuccini?”

I shot him a look that said, “Don’t get wise with me, Buster.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s a made-up brand name – some kind of mash-up of French and Italian, I guess. So there’s probably no standard plural.”

There’s more to him than meets the eye, I thought.

“Right,” I said. ‘That mash-up is what Lewis Carroll called a “portmanteau” word. You blend sounds from two unrelated words and combine their meanings. In Through the Looking-Glass Humpty Dumpty combined lithe and slimy to create the word slithy.’

“A frappé is one of those frothy drinks with shaved ice,” de Sica said. “Frapper is French for ‘to beat or strike.’ It must mean ‘whipped,’” he guessed.

“You’d think so; wouldn’t you,” I admitted. “But frapper also means ‘to cool a drink by adding ice.’ Go figure.

“Then there’s the other part of the portmanteau. Why espresso topped with foamy steamed milk is called cappuccino, Italian for Capuchin, a friar of the order of St. Francis, is a secret as obscure as the coffee. But I can tell you the brothers were named for the pointy hoods on their cloaks. Cappuccio is the augmentative of cappa, or ‘cape.’

“But that’s not why you came to see me; is it?”

Illustration by J.B. Herman

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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3 Responses to Seeking the Origin of Frappuccino

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