Word for Wednesday: O is for Ombre.

It is almost completely impossible to buy decent cake out here in Brunei.  Yet for some reason I have yet to fathom, we have an endless cycle of social and charity events where cake stalls and requests for donations of baked goods feature heavily. There’s no written expectation, but in the usual expat community way, everyone tries to do their bit. With yet another charity tea party fundraiser this afternoon that will be me back in the kitchen, routing through my recipes. It’s a good job I like baking!

Cupcakes have been specifically requested for this one (which I remembered after I’d already made a batch of chocolate slices!  Whoops!).  But I am growing decidedly bored of making the same old butter cream swirl cupcake topping.  And a splodge of runny royal icing with a generous shake of sprinkles doesn’t seem adequate for something people are paying for, somehow.  So I’ve recently started experimenting with cake toppings, and I even treated myself to my first ever icing bag and nozzles. Time to get creative!

I love the ombre cake decorating trend but wow, does it look time-consuming!  I really don’t think I have the patience or the time for that level of technical commitment.  Certainly not for a cake that I probably won’t even get the chance to sample myself.  You can’t really go to a cake stall and buy your own cake, can you?!  Although I do have a good friend’s birthday coming up soon. So perhaps I’ll do something fancy for that, to really give my icing nozzles and the ombre effect a proper test drive.

Anyway, enough about cake, more about ombre!  Did you know it actually has two completely different, unrelated meanings?


Ombre (adjective).

  • having colours or tones that shade into each other.  Used especially for fabrics, hair colouring and cake icing when the colour is graduated from light to dark.

Derivation of ombre as an adjective: French, past participle of ombrer to shade, from Italian ombrare, from ombra shade, from Latin umbra.  First Known Use: 1893.


Ombre (noun).

  • a card game, played by three players with 40 cards.  Especially popular during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Derivation of ombre as a noun: French or Spanish; French hombre, from Spanish, literally, man.  First Known Use: around 1661.



I’m more into cake than cards personally, but in this case I knew of the card game before I knew of the colour effect.  Classic literature is great for giving an insight into language and life in the past.  William Makepeace Thackeray in his satirical 1840s novel, Vanity Fair, wrote:

“It was there that Egalite Orleans roasted partridges on the night when he and the Marquis of Steyne won a hundred thousand from a great personage at ombre.  Half of the money went to the French Revolution, half to purchase Lord Gaunt’s Marquisate and Garter”.

(WIlliam Makepeace Thackeray).

Marie Antoinette was born around 100 years before the publication of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and was alive during the height of ombre’s popularity at the cards table.  The infamous 18th Century Queen of France and Navarre is credited with some absolutely brilliant quotations.  The one that springs to mind on this occasion is that ‘there is nothing new except what has been forgotten’.

According to the oracle that is Wikipedia, the name of the cards game stems from the Spanish phrase originally used by the player who declared trumps.  Yo soy el hombre, or ‘I am the man’.  So it turns out that although the game may no longer be in common usage, the current ‘Who’s the man?!’ / ‘I’m the man!’ rhetoric of cool kids everywhere has actually been around for literally centuries.  Fancy that!

5 thoughts on “Word for Wednesday: O is for Ombre.

    1. jenny Post author

      It looks like it does, Amy! But I really fancy having a go. Maybe when I have a bit less going on and I can spend an evening playing without any pressure to do other more important things! :o)


        1. jenny Post author

          Your inner-editor working hard there, Amy! I hadn’t even noticed. I think your mind automatically reads what it expects to see in circumstances like that. Mine does, anyway…but if I’d written it and then spotted it, I couldn’t have left it uncorrected either! ;o)



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