Hirata buns or kimchi, anyone? New words connected with food.

by Liz Walter
Once notorious for our diet of meat and two soggy veg, we in the UK are now happily tucking into sushi, dim sum, tacos and fajitas, chorizo, bruschetta, tagines, baklava, guacamole, felafels and houmous (over 30 million pots a year from one supermarket chain alone!).

All of this gives the lexicographer a bit of a headache. When do these foods become established enough to merit a place in the dictionary? After all, pretzels, ketchup and lasagne were considered ‘foreign’ once, but are now firmly part of the English language.

As part of our work, my colleague Kate Woodford and I collect new words as they come into English (many of which you can find on this website). We don’t try to predict whether or not they will catch on, but just record them for future research. So I decided to look back at food words we captured between 2005 and 2010 to see which of them have made it into general use. Continue reading “Hirata buns or kimchi, anyone? New words connected with food.”

A bite to eat

toastby Kate Woodford

With Christmas Day just a week away, many of us are now planning and shopping for the many meals that we will share with family and friends during the holiday season. With food in mind, we’re going to take a look at the words that we use to describe different types of meals and the occasions on which those meals are eaten.

Your main meal is the biggest meal of the day, whenever that is eaten. Meals generally are described as big, (I had a really big breakfast.) or light (I usually have a fairly light lunch – a sandwich or something.). A small amount of food that you eat between meals is often called a snack. ‘Snack’ is also used as a verb: Try to stop your children snacking between meals. / Snack on dried fruit instead of crisps and chocolate. The verb graze is also used to mean ‘to eat small amounts frequently’: Isabel doesn’t really eat proper meals – she just grazes all day. A bite or a bite to eat is a light meal, especially one that you eat quickly: We could grab a bite in town before we go to the cinema. / Do we have time to get a bite to eat? Continue reading “A bite to eat”

Fowl Talk for Thanksgiving

By Hugh Rawson

“Do you want white meat or dark meat?”

“Dark, please.”

“Would you like a drumstick?”

The key words in this snatch of dinner-table conversation – white meat, dark meat, and drumstick – are used so often when carving up a turkey at Thanksgiving that people tend to forget they are euphemisms: agreeable, round-about words employed in place of ones that are regarded as coarse or offensive. In this case, the “offensive” words are breast, thigh, and leg, words that people in polite society once avoided using, especially when women were present.

The avoidance of plain terms for bodily parts commonly is associated with the prudery of our Victorian ancestors though many of the evasions predate Her ascension to the throne in 1837.  To cite just a few examples from this euphemistically fertile period:  people started saying darn instead of damn, to employ dashes (d – – –) when writing the harsher word, to perspire instead of sweat, to wear unmentionables  instead of  trousers and breeches, to have stomachaches instead of bellyaches, to use nude rather than naked when referring to human figures in painting and sculpture, and to be laid to rest, not buried, in a cemetery (from the Greek word for “dormitory” or “sleeping place”) rather than in a graveyard. Continue reading “Fowl Talk for Thanksgiving”

Watching What You Eat

By Hugh Rawson       

“Man is what he eats,” according to the nineteenth-century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach – but may not want to know too much about the origin of what’s being eaten.

One of the most common ways of maintaining willful blindness is to translate English words for foods into French ones. In part, this is a tribute to the general admiration for that nation’s culinary expertise. But it also has the great advantage for English-speaking diners of blurring one’s mental image of what is being served up for their consumption.

Take filet mignon, for example. This  translates literally as “delicate” or “dainty slice.” In actuality, though, as pointed out by semanticist S. I. Hayakawa, “finest quality filet mignon” is just another way of saying “first-class piece of dead cow.”  Which tastes better to you? Continue reading “Watching What You Eat”

Baloney and Other Disparaging Dishes

by Hugh Rawson

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines recently when rejecting criticisms of a Muslim-American whom he had nominated as a state judge. “It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background,” said the Governor. “I’m happy that he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”

Christie’s use of baloney in the sense of “nonsense,” “rubbish,” or “foolishness,” as opposed to the kind of baloney, or  bologna sausage, that one buys in a supermarket or delicatessen, has many precedents in American politics. New York Governor Al Smith helped popularize baloney in this sense  in the 1920s and ’30s. When declining to pose with trowel in hand for a cameraman at a cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1926, Smith said “That’s just baloney. Everybody knows I can’t lay bricks.” More famously, he objected to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s devaluation of the dollar in 1933, saying he was “for gold dollars as against baloney dollars.” And Smith’s speeches in support of Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s opponent in the 1936 presidential election, included the memorable refrain, “No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.” Continue reading “Baloney and Other Disparaging Dishes”