Alas For Romance: Traditional Military "History" That Isn't True - Napoleon Named Pumpernickel for His Horse
There’s an oft repeated tale that pumpernickel, the dark, dense German rye bread, received it’s name from none other than Napoleon himself.
As the story has it, when Napoleon entered Berlin on October 27, 1806, he had to endure a round of ceremonies to mark the formal surrender of the city, culminating in the presentation of the keys of the city. That done, he then visited the tomb of Frederick the Great and took in some other sights. All-in-all, it was a fatiguing day, and at one point the Emperor complained of being hungry.
Offered a piece of dark bread, Napoleon reportedly took a bite, and found it not to his liking. He promptly declared it inedible, saying something like "C'est pain pour Nicole! – This is bread for Nicole!” referring to the sturdy warhorse he was riding. Supposedly, some Berliners heard this as “Pumpernickel” and the name stuck.
There are a number of reasons to doubt this tale. For one thing, Napoleon is not know to have ever ridden a horse named “Nicole” or any variant thereof. For another, the tale is sometimes ascribed to one of his generals, usually Marshal Michel Ney. But the most serious objections are etymological and cultural.
To begin with, the name “pumpernickel” for this type of bread was already in circulation well before Napoleon. Etymologists have traced the word "pumpernickel" to seventeenth century German, easily a century before anyone had ever heard of the Corsican Ogre. AA slang term meaning "Devil’s fart," used to describe a low class, unrefined person, “pumpernickel” was eventually attached to the bread, because it was cheap and low class. This type of bread was recorded under various names as early as the mid-fifteenth century. References to the word – and the bread – began turning up in English by the early eighteenth-century, perhaps in the aftermath of the increased ties to Germany that followed the accession of Elector George of Hanover to the British throne in 1714.
And then there’s the fact that pumpernickel is actually of Westphalian origin, rather than Brandenberger.