Tasty Dribbling

If you read recipes, you know what drizzling is: pouring a little liquid over a dish just before you serve it. But according to the dictionaries, “to drizzle” means to produce fine, mist-like droplets, as in, “It wasn’t even sprinkling, just drizzling.”

Recipe writers fiercely defend the word. “Pouring” suggests too much liquid, they point out, “sprinkling” implies scattered drops and “adding” doesn’t make it clear the liquid goes all over the top of the dish. And since the liquid quickly flows down, you can’t properly speak of “topping” the dish with it. “Drizzling” is the only answer.

And yet this use of the word doesn’t seem to go back earlier than the 1970s. How did we get along before that?

Well, we used the verb “to dress,” as in “dress the salad (or fish or whatever) with oil.” The liquid was being added at the end, and “to dress” means to get something properly ready. In this case, to put a dressing on it.


But fewer and fewer people grow up with a knowledge of cooking these days. Food writers may have felt the need for a word that made it clear that a liquid was being put onto the dish from above. And maybe “to dress” merged with “to dribble,” conveniently suggesting the amount of liquid and how fast it was going on.

Why didn’t people just say “dribble the salad with oil?” Well, the word “dribbling” has these connotations of, let’s say, saliva control difficulties.