I was thinking about what I was going to write here earlier as I was trying to tidy the kitchen, and as I swept up the wide gathering of crumbs from the work surface which I’d only just cleaned half an hour or so ago, I thought the subject of crumbs might be interesting. I could talk about my experience with crumbs which come from nowhere, the origin of the word, the obsolete exclamation of ‘oh crumbs’ or ‘crumbsy-crackers!’maybe even a recipe using bread crumbs… and then I found I had already written one on that very subject, seven years ago!
I’m not sure anyone uses the exclamation of surprise, ‘crumbs!’ any more… except maybe me and Stephen Fry, but crumbs are the bane of my life. Where do they come from? Our kitchen is always full of crumbs… I think our boggart makes a lot of biscuits which he secretly eats and leaves evidence all over the kitchen surfaces and on the floor. No matter how often I wipe, sweep, tidy, there are always crumbs.
I went to lay the breakfast table this morning for guests we have staying; the new clean table-cloth which was put on the table yesterday was covered in crumbs. We were out with our friends at lunchtime yesterday, and we went for a meal with them last night… no-one ate any biscuits, so where did the crumbs on the dining room table come from?
The word ‘crumb’ comes from Old English crome/cruma, meaning a little bit or a fragment, and appears to relate in spelling to dumb, numb and thumb. It also was used as an insult ‘a crumb’ being a worthless, useless individual nut that apparently comes from ‘crumb’ meaning a body-louse’.
Maybe ‘oh crumbs!’ is an invocation to the biscuit god and he showers us in tiny fragments of food in recognition… I must ask Stephen Fry