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The English word “barbecue” and its cognates in other languages come from the Spanish word barbacoa. Etymologists believe this to be derived from barabicu found in the language of the Arawak people of the Caribbean and the Timucua people of Florida;[1][page needed] it has entered some European languages in the form of the aforementioned barbacoa. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces the word to Haiti and translates it as a “framework of sticks set upon posts”.[2] Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés, a Spanish explorer, was the first to use the word “barbecoa” in print in Spain in 1526 in the Diccionario de la Lengua Española (2nd Edition) of the Real Academia Española. After Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, the Spaniards apparently found Taíno roasting meat over a grill consisting of a wooden framework resting on sticks above a fire. The flames and smoke rose and enveloped the meat, giving it a certain flavor.[3]

Traditional barbacoa involves digging a hole in the ground and placing some meat—usually a whole lamb—above a pot so the juices can be used to make a broth. It is then covered with maguey leaves and coal, and set alight. The cooking process takes a few hours. Olaudah Equiano, an African abolitionist, described this method of roasting alligators among the Mosquito People (Miskito people) on his journeys to Cabo Gracias a Dios in his narrative The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.[4]

Linguists have suggested the word was loaned successively into Spanish, then Portuguese, French, and English. In the form barbacado the word was used in English in 1648 by the supposed Beauchamp Plantagenet in the tract A description of the province of New Albion: “the Indians in stead of salt doe barbecado or dry and smoak fish”.[5] According to the OED, the first recorded use in modern form was in 1661, in Edmund Hickeringill‘s Jamaica Viewed: “Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu’d and eat”;[2] it also appears in 1672 in the writings of John Lederer following his travels in the North American southeast in 1669–70.[6] First known use as a noun was in 1697 by the English buccaneer William Dampier. In his New Voyage Round the World, Dampier wrote, ” … and lay there all night, upon our Borbecu’s, or frames of Sticks, raised about 3 foot from the Ground”.[7]

Samuel Johnson‘s 1756 dictionary gave the following definitions:[8]

  • “To Barbecue – a term for dressing a whole hog” (attestation to Pope)
  • “Barbecue – a hog dressed whole”

While the standard modern English spelling of the word is barbecue, variations including barbeque and truncations such as bar-b-q or BBQ may also be found.[9] The spelling barbeque is given in Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries as a variant.[10][11] In the southeastern United States, the word barbecue is used predominantly as a noun referring to roast pork, while in the southwestern states cuts of beef are often cooked.[12][page needed]

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