I really can't figure out the etymology of these 3 'mac-' words.

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According to google, the etymology for "macaroni" originates from

late 17th century: from Italian maccaroni (now usually spelled maccheroni ), plural of maccarone, from late Greek makaria ‘food made from barley.’

I assume this could originate from early macaoroni pastas possibly being made strictly from barley? Is this true?

However, a google search for the etymology of either macaroons or macarons says that these two words also originate from italian maccarone. However, both foods are devoid of barley.

So... what exactly is going on here?

Can anyone provide an etymoligcal history of these terms and how they came to be called what they are?

1 Answer 1


The Oxford English Dictionary position on "macaroni" is that

Italian maccherone is perhaps < Byzantine Greek μακαρία barley-broth (only attested in Hesychius, and therefore possibly from a lost ancient Greek or Hellenistic Greek text) < ancient Greek μακάριος blessed (because originally a funeral or charitable meal); another suggested Greek etymology is < medieval Greek μακαρώνεια funeral chant (13th cent.) < ancient Greek μακάριος + αἰώνιος eternal (see aeonian adj.). maccherone is attested early in southern Italian use, and may have entered Italian or post-classical Latin from the Greek settlements in southern Italy (compare Italian macco , originally of similar meaning and perhaps of the same origin).

and they are of the opinion that it originally was a gnocco. They are less informative about "macaroon":

< Middle French macaron (mid 16th cent. in senses 1, 2) < Italian maccarone , macarone , obsolete or regional variants of maccherone

but at any rate, they reduce "macaroon" and "macaroni" to the same source (and don't even list "macaron" separately).

  • 1
    and note that, though "barley" does occur in this account, there is not reason to suppose that it was a central part of the definition at any point.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 17, 2017 at 23:25

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