Posted by: Jack Henry | May 16, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Would you like a second helping?

Dear Editrix,

Where did the term "a helping of food" come from?

Reaching out from Redmond

Dear Redmond Reacher,

What a fantastic question! I was hoping I’d find all kinds of stories and information on this idiomatic phrase, but instead, I mostly found definitions, such as “a portion,” and “a serving.”

Looking a little deeper, I found these two etymologies in the Online Etymology Dictionary, which tell a little bit of the story. I hope this helps!


helping (noun)

"aid, assistance," late 13c., verbal noun from help (v.). Meaning "act of serving food" is from 1824; that of "a portion of food" is from 1883.

help (verb)

Old English helpan "help, support, succor; benefit, do good to; cure, amend" (transitive, class III strong verb; past tense healp, past participle holpen), from Proto-Germanic *helpan (source also of Old Norse hjalpa, Old Frisian helpa, Middle Dutch and Dutch helpen, Old High German helfan, German helfen), from PIE root *kelb- "to help" (source also of Lithuanian selpiu "to support, help").

Intransitive sense, "afford aid or assistance," is from early 13c. Recorded as a cry of distress from late 14c. Sense of "serve someone with food at table" (1680s) is translated from French servir "to help, stead, avail," and led to helping "portion of food." Help yourself as an invitation, in reference to food, etc., is from 1894. Related: Helped (c. 1300). The Middle English past participle holpen survives in biblical and U.S. dialectal use.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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