Word of the Month: Chimichurri

David Zapatka

One of my favorite dishes on cruise ships is fish al fresco, “fish cooked and eaten in the fresh air.” This means the executive chef purchases fresh-caught fish in the ports, displays them in the outdoor grill section of the ship, then cooks them to order. One of my favorites is chimichurri on barramundi.

Chimichurri—chi·​mi·​chur·​ri noun: a savory Argentinian sauce or marinade typically made with finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, vinegar, and olive oil.

Etymologyborrowed from American Spanish (Argentina, Uruguay), probably a permutation of Spanish chirriburri, variant of churriburri, zurriburri “hubbub, base individual, rabble,” probably borrowed from Basque zurrumurru, zurruburru “noise, rumor.”

Chimichurri belongs to a family of Spanish expressive words of variable meaning. The path by which the word, apparently unattested in this meaning before the 1950s, attached itself to a sauce, is unclear, or at least undocumented. In the comedy El derrumbe (published 1911, first performed in 1909) by the Argentine playwright and director Vincente Martínez Cuitiño, la chimichurri is an epithet for a female character; it evidently means something to the other characters (and to the audience), but the allusion appears to have been lost. It appears chimichurri is a variant of chirriburri. The latter word, in turn, leads to churriburri, which—usually as a cross-reference to zurriburri—is solidly embedded in Spanish dictionaries. Zurriburri is defined in the Real Academia Española Diccionario de la lengua española as “barullo, confusión” (“hubbub, confusion”), “sujeto vil, despreciable y de muy baja esfera” (“base, worthless person of a very low social class”), “conjunto de personas de la ínfima plebe o de malos procederes” (“group of persons of the lowest class or of bad behavior”). The word is known from the 1620’s (Francisco de Quevedo, Gonzalo Correas). Joan Coromines (Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico) places zurriburri under the onomatopoeic verbs zurrir and zumbar, “to whir, hum, buzz, etc.” However, of undoubted relevance to the etymology of zurriburri is Basque zurrumurru, zurruburru “rumor, noise.” Given the productive nature in Basque of reduplicative compounds with initial m- or b- (see Mark R.V. Southern, Contagious Couplings: Transmission of Expressives in Yiddish Echo Phrases, Greenwood Press, 2005, pp. 157-59, with references to the Bascological literature), and the origin of zurriburri should probably be sought in Basque rather than in Spanish.

First Use—1967 in the sense defined above

Chimichurri used in a sentence:

I had beef tenderloin with chimichurri.

Slice the fish, place on top of the salad, and drizzle with chimichurri sauce.

Marinated and grilled skirt steak is served with chimichurri sauce, potatoes, and asparagus.

As a sauce, I preferred the chimichurri to the red chili relish.

Chimichurri used on the web:

Authentic chimichurri from Uruguay and Argentina is the best accompaniment to any barbecued or grilled meats!Karina, Cafedelights.com.

Do you like chimichurri? Share your chimichurri favorites with our readers. Please submit your experiences or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected].