Farrago – From Fodder to Hodgepodge
The Oxford Online English Dictionary defines ‘farrago’ as a noun meaning ‘a confused mixture’; Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com both go a little further, adding ‘hodgepodge’. Collins describes it as a ‘countable noun’, almost a unit of measure, and even attaches implied disdain to its meaning – it contains a more disapproving note than ‘medley’, for example.
Amongst its suggested synonyms are the neutral ‘assortment’, ‘collection’, ‘miscellany’ and the more undesirable ‘ragbag’, ‘disarray’, ‘muddle’.
And yet, though ‘jumble’ is a pretty close approximation of its meaning, this intriguing noun has a pleasing sense which the others lack. Its 17th century origins and peak usage in the 1800s give an amusing eccentricity to its subtle affront.
Etymologically speaking, its story, though brief, is interesting and entertaining in the same manner. From the Latin term ‘far’ (meaning ‘corn’), grew ‘farrago’ – at this stage meaning ‘mixed fodder’ or an assortment of feed grains for animals. The suffix ‘-ago’ simply denotes ‘kind’, ’type’ or ‘nature’. From there, somewhere between 1625 and 1635, it came into common usage in English, now signifying a more figurative or abstract mixture.
The chart below shows the gloomy decline in its usage after peaking at the beginning of the 19th century: maybe we have enough words nowadays for a muddle or hodgepodge. But I think ‘farrago’ is sophisticated and agreeable enough (in terms of its pretty lilt and peculiar history) to be favoured over its various synonyms.