I was reading something online a few days ago and the writer mentioned a ‘pallet cleanser’. Perhaps they meant a ‘palate cleanser’. Or a ‘palette cleanser’.
To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I’d assumed that pallet, palate and palette shared a common origin with each other, and with plate – something approximately round, square or rectangular, and flat. Apparently, nope. Or at least two of them do, and the other two don’t.
I checked three online sources (Dictionary.com, the Free Dictionary and Etymology online) just to make sure, and they all agree.
Pallet, as in ‘industrial warehouse moveable platform’, is from Middle French palette, a small shovel. Palate, as in ‘the roof of the mouth’, is from Latin palātum, roof of the mouth. Palette, as in ‘a painter’s mixing board’ is from Old French palete, small shovel, blade, Latin pala, spade, shoulder blade, and therefore shares an origin with the industrial warehouse moveable platform. Plate, as in ‘crockery’ is from Old French, something flat, Vulgar Latin *plattus, akin to Greek platýs broad, flat [cf platypus].
But there’s another pallet, ‘a bed or mattress of straw’, which is different again, from Old French paille, straw, Latin palea, chaff.
Plate is common enough that people aren’t going to get it mixed up with any of the others, but pallet, palate and palette are rare enough that anyone who is not a warehouse forklift driver, a maxillofacial surgeon, linguist, speech therapist or chef, or a painter is likely to get them mixed up.
Pallet is the simplest spelling. A Google search returned 506,000 results for ‘palate cleanser’, 331,000 for ‘palette cleanser’ and 16,700,000 for ‘pallet cleanser’, which probably says more about how Google’s search engines operate it does about people’s spelling.