Cartoon potatoes

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

A lot of political and culinary history here.

French fries. A huge range of names here. The beginning of the Wikipedia sampling:

French fries (American English, with “French” often capitalized), or chips, fries, or French-fried potatoes are batons of deep-fried potato. North Americans refer to any elongated pieces of fried potatoes as fries, while in the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, long, thinly cut slices of fried potatoes are often called fries to distinguish them from the more thickly cut strips called chips. French fries are known as frites, patates frites or pommes frites in French, a name which is also used in many non-French-speaking areas, and have names that mean “fried potatoes” or “French potatoes” in others.

On etymology, from the same source:

Thomas Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” at a White House dinner in 1802. The expression “French Fried Potatoes” first occurs in print in English in the 1856 work Cookery for Maids of All Work by E. Warren: “French Fried Potatoes. – Cut new potatoes in thin slices, put them in boiling fat, and a little salt; fry both sides of a light golden brown colour; drain.” In the early 20th century, the term “French fried” was being used in the sense of “deep-fried”, for other foods such as onion rings or chicken.

But others claim a Belgian origin. In any case, they are now wildly popular, in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, France, and especially Belgium and the Netherlands.

Freedom fries (and freedom toast). That brings us to French opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Highlights from the Wikipedia story:

Freedom fries is a political euphemism for French fries used by some people in the United States as a result of anti-French sentiment during the controversy over the U.S. decision to launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq. France expressed strong opposition in the United Nations to such an invasion. Some frowned upon the French position, leading to campaigns for the boycotting of French goods and businesses and the removal of the country’s name from products.

On March 11, 2003, Representatives Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-North Carolina) declared that all references to French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives would be removed. House cafeterias were ordered to rename French fries “freedom fries”. This action was carried out without a congressional vote, under the authority of Ney’s position as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees restaurant operations for the chamber. The simultaneous renaming of French toast to “freedom toast” attracted less attention.

… In May 2005, Representative Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war “with no justification”, said of the “freedom fries” episode: “I wish it had never happened.” By July 2006, the House had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to “French fries” and “French toast”.

Well, the expressions didn’t catch on and have largely died away. Not surprisingly.

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys. As if the Freedom fries episode weren’t silly enough, the hostility to the French became the target of parody:

“Cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, sometimes shortened to “surrender monkeys”, is a derogatory description of French people that was coined in 1995 by a writer of the television series The Simpsons. [Well, popularized. The ultimate source is Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).] The phrase has since entered two Oxford quotation dictionaries. After being [further] popularized by National Review journalist Jonah Goldberg, it has frequently been used by journalists and academics. The phrase was particularly used in the run-up to the Iraq War, since France was opposed to military intervention in Iraq. (link)

Axis of weasels. While we’re on the linguistic fall-out of the invasion of Iraq, there’s the pun axis of weasels:

The phrase axis of weasels is a derogatory term for certain European states that did not support the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, specifically France, Germany and Belgium.

… The term is a conscious pun made on President George W. Bush’s term “axis of evil”, which he used in the 2002 State of the Union address to decry Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. (link)

Tater Tots. Back to food names. From Wikipedia:

Tater Tots, a registered trademark for a commercial form of hash browns made by Ore-Ida [created in 1953, first available in stores in 1956], are a side-dish made from deep-fried, grated potatoes. Tater Tots are widely recognized by their crispness, cylindrical shape and small size.

Tater Tots are commonly found in the U.S. in cafeterias and school lunch-counters, as well as the supermarket frozen food aisle and some fast food restaurants.

(There are various alternative names.)

Dictatortots. Now we have the linguistic ingredients for the portmanteau dictatortots: dictator + Tater Tots, overlapping in the two medial syllables. All that’s required is a motivation for the dictator component. For that, you need to know that the CIA (the US Central Intelligence Agency) has a reputation for clandestine operations in support of dictatorial regimes (maintaining political stability). So there’s a political bite to the cartoon.

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