General English


  • A kind of gruel made by boiling porridge oats with water or milk or mixtures of both and salt until the desired consistency is reached. Eaten as a breakfast dish with sweetening and milk or cream. The name is also used for oatmeal, maize, etc. boiled to the same consistency with water.


  • noun a term of imprisonment. Leaden, grey, institutional porridge is evoked as an image of the general deprivations of prison life, but is probably in origin a pun on stir. This underworld term was given wider currency by its use as the title of a BBC TV comedy series, starring Ronnie Barker.

Origin & History of “porridge”

Porridge is a 16th-century alteration of pottage (13th c.). this originally denoted a stew of vegetables and sometimes meat, boiled to submission, but it gradually came to be applied to a gruel, of varying consistency, made of cereals, pulses, etc, and it was the sort made from oatmeal that eventually took over the word porridge. Its transformation from pottage took place via an intermediate poddage (the t pronounced /d/ as in American English), and the change to r is mirrored in such forms as geraway and geroff for getaway and get off. The same thing happened in the case of porringer ‘dish’ (16th c.), which came from an earlier pottinger. Pottage itself was acquired from Old French potage, which etymologically meant simply ‘something from a pot’ (it was a derivative of pot ‘pot’). English reborrowed it in the 16th century as potage ‘soup’.