The English verb braise means, in the definition of Merriam-Webster, ‘to cook slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a closed pot.’ English acquired the word from the similar French verb braiser, which comes from the noun braise that means ‘glowing ember.’ People have used coal and charcoal as heat sources to cook in various ways, so it’s not clear how braiser came to designate only one method. In any case, Spanish speakers will recognize French braise as the cognate of the synonymous Spanish brasa. The French and Spanish nouns are ultimately of Germanic origin. Beyond that, the American Heritage Dictionary follows the trail back to the prolific Indo-European root bhreu- that meant ‘to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn’ and that had derivatives referring, somewhat paradoxically, to both cooking and brewing.

From brasa Spanish has the brasero that the DRAE defines as a ‘ recipiente de metal, ancho y hondo, ordinariamente circular, con borde, en el cual se echan o se hacen brasas para calentarse.’ English calls that a brazier or brasier.

©2018 Steven Schwartzman

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria
    May 18, 2018 @ 09:48:05

    This is another one that’s new to me. It might have been used in restaurants in PR, but for the most part the Spanish there departed from words commonly used in Spain or other parts of Latin America.

    The Caribbean islands that speak Spanish substituted words coming from Spain, particularly the ones from Germanic origin. For example, instead of ‘brasero’, the word ‘caldero’ (from calor-heat) would be used, and ‘brasa’ which as you know means ‘Leña o carbón encendidos’, or ‘glowing ember’, was eventually substituted for simply ‘carbón’, or ‘barbacoa’.

    I learned just now that ‘barbacoa’ is actually a Taíno word which English borrowed from Spanish (barbeque). The Taíno indians inhabited PR before Columbus. This could be the reason why ‘brasa’ was not used.


  2. shoreacres
    May 18, 2018 @ 23:07:47

    A curiosity about brazier is that it also can refer to someone who works in brass. In Liberia, I sometimes heard traditional blacksmiths referred to as braziers. Although they worked primarily in iron, there were plenty of brass objects that filtered into the country, primarily from Nigeria, and the techniques for producing them may have come along at the same time.

    I wonder whether the metal workers became known as braziers when the word for the container of coals was transferred over to them. I wonder, too, which of the foreign cultures — American, Lebanese, Indian — might have brought the word to Liberia in the first place. I’m sure someone knows, but I couldn’t find anything about it.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 18, 2018 @ 23:37:00

      That other brazier comes from brass and is therefore unrelated etymologically. That said, there are many examples of people confusing similar-sounding (or identical-looking) words that have something in common semantically, and melding (or in this case melting) their meanings. Another example is durable, where a native English speaker has trouble telling whether the root is from the Latin adjective that means ‘hard’ (durus) or the unrelated Latin verb that means ‘to last’ (durare).


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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