For the next few days I am looking at the origins of words that have something to do with food and drink after reading Albert Jack’s wonderful book It’s a Wonderful Word.
Today I am looking at the word ‘bistro’ which the OED defines as ‘a small, inexpensive restaurant’ and popularised before fast-food outlets began to take hold of high streets in the 1970s. The word goes back to Napolean’s defeat in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Troops began to occupy the streets of Paris and there were a large amount of Russian servicemen. As one may expect, the Paris cafes soon became packed with troops and frequently heard in these crowded establishments was ‘Bystro! Bystro!’ which means ‘Quickly! Quickly!’ in Russian. Over time, ‘bistro’ began to be associated with any small bars, cafes and restaurants.