19th-century Swiss steak

July 16, 2018

Who put the Swiss in Swiss steak? In my July 13th posting “Swiss steak” I deprecated the popular idea that a verb swiss lies behind this usage and suggested reverting to the simple proposal that Swiss is just the nationality Adj, but that the composite Swiss steak is not predicational — Swiss steak is not Swiss, but American — and is instead relational, entailing only that Swiss steak is related to or associated with Switzerland in some way (perhaps by virtue of the ingredients or techniques involved in its preparation).

But investigating any proposal about the origin of the expression requires assembling much more evidence than I had available to me in my searches on the net: many more, and earlier, examples, with rich information about the cultural context surrounding them.

A notable step in this direction has now been made by Peter Reitan, who has access to large newspaper archives and experience in using these resources. He reported on his initial explorations in a short posting to ADS-L yesterday, a note suggesting that 19th-century occurrences of Swiss steak indicate that the term might have originated along the Ohio River in southern Indiana, in an area where Francophone Swiss settled in the early 19th century.

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On the black cat patrol

July 15, 2018

Just mounted on the wall I face when I’m at my work table: a digital reproduction of the famous Zwicky Cat poster by Donald Brun (for the Zwicky silk thread company in Wallisellen, Canton Zürich), and a postcard Amanda Walker sent me because it reminded her of the cat Kurniau (what cats say in Estonian — it’s a purr and a meow) from the Zwicky household in Columbus OH many years ago:


I’ve posted the Zwicky Cat image before, and about Brun. To come here: about the source of the framed poster (the Wee Blue Coo company in Edinburgh); about the fuller version of the poster, in which a cat may look at a cat icon (as Kurniau seems to be doing above); and about another entertaining Brun poster that I came across while searching for a copy of the two-cat version of the Zwicky silk thread poster.

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Braised short ribs with Swiss chard, and the Swiss Hotel

July 15, 2018

An offshoot of investigations into Swiss Steak: three recipes for braised shortribs (or short ribs) with Swiss chard, one of them from the restaurant of the Swiss Hotel in Sonoma CA. Braised shortribs and Swiss steak are both braised beef dishes, but Swiss steak is boneless, is standardly pounded flat before searing and stewing, and is often cut into pieces before cooking; otherwise, the dishes are very similar.

Swiss steak isn’t Swiss, in the sense that the American dish as we know it isn’t part of Swiss cuisine — it is, instead, American — but it might be steak à la Suisse, steak in the Swiss style, with reference to some ingredient or cooking technique that is, or at least is believed to be, associated with Switzerland, in the way that spinach is associated with the city of Florence, in the modifier Florentine ‘with spinach’. (That would be to treat Swiss steak as a relational, rather than predicational, composite, like Swiss cheese; see my 7/10/18 posting “Swiss cheese isn’t Swiss”.)

Meanwhile, Swiss chard (aka chard and several other things) isn’t Swiss either, certainly not by origin, though the details of its association with or relationship to Switzerland are not at all clear — perhaps only by its being a everyday green vegetable throughout the country (in a way that it is not in the US or the UK).

The Swiss Hotel in Sonoma (serving Italian / American food) isn’t Swiss, either, but it is historically related to Switzerland, in particular to Italophone Switzerland in the 19th century.

The pairing of braised shortribs (not in itself a particularly Swiss dish) with Swiss chard on several occasions, once from a restaurant with Swiss associations, might suggest an association between Switzerland and braised meat, braised beef in particular — a relationship that could help to account for the Swiss of Swiss steak.

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Punallusive protest

July 14, 2018

Passed on to me by Joe Transue, this sign from massive protests in London against the current state visit by Helmet Grabpussy:


Either this is just a taunt, or you get the allusion — and then you are probably suffering from an earworm, with the words:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

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Swiss steak

July 13, 2018

First, it’s American.

Second, it’s simple, homey food, designed to use tougher and cheaper cuts of beef.

Third, it’s unclear where the modifier Swiss comes from.

Fourth, its preparation involves two cooking techniques that are used in other dishes. One of these is tenderizing and flattening by pounding, a technique also used in the preparation of elegant dishes of veal, beef, pork, or chicken in the Schnitzel / Milanesa family.

Fifth, the other technique is braising: searing meat and then cooking it very slowly with liquid (and, usually, vegetables) in a closed container. Sharing this technique makes Swiss steak and pot roast of beef culinary cousins.

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On the Beast beat

July 12, 2018

From my 5/18/18 posting “What have you done with your life? The LGBT department”:

It began a little while back with a request from the Daily Beast for an interview in a series about “unsung (or, at least undersung) LGBT heroes” — people of significance in both a professional field and the LGBT world. A daunting request, to which I’ve responded in three postings on this blog:

on 5/9, “The way I write now”: about my eccentric genre of flânerie

on 5/10,  “What have you done with your life?”: about my contributions to linguistics, via a huge list of things I’ve worked on in my academic career, plus two lists of characteristic terminology I’ve used, some of which has become associated with me personally

and now this one, about my contributions to the lgbt community.

That was then, and at this point my exchanges with Samantha Allen at the Daily Beast came to an end (though people keep asking me what happened to the project). There are three explanations for this development, of which the most likely is that Samantha was simply overwhelmed by events. So after a bit more about me I’ll write about her.

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Golden Meanies

July 12, 2018

On Sandra Boynton‘s Facebook page yesterday:

Today is Pet Photo Day, so here is a recent snapshot of my semi-domesticated Golden Meanie, Fibonacci.


Golden Meanie is a bit of complex language play, combining the mathematical term golden mean (aka golden ratio); a reference to the Blue Meanies of the animated film Yellow Submarine; and a reference to the amiable domestic dog breeds the golden retriever and the golden Labrador. Plus, the name of Boynton’s Golden Meanie, Fibonacci, is a reference to the Fibonacci sequence in mathematics, which is intimately related to the golden ratio.

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July 11, 2018

Two items from early in June. First, the Zippy strip from June 2nd, a hymn to the 1957 Nash Metropolitan (a genuinely cute car, unlike current models, with their angry grilles):


Then, following a brief June 1st Facebook posting by grizzled copyeditor John McIntyre (of the Baltimore Sun) —

Yesterday: “pallet” for “palette.” Today: “palate” for “palette.”

— this complaint from UK copyeditor LS:

I’ve done a series of seven novels for an author [AZ: call him Auth] who can’t keep the differen[ce] between grille and grill in his head. And he uses it several times per story. And yes, I’ve told him – and it’s in every single word list I send him. I guess we all have a blind spot. Or maybe he’s doing it on purpose now, to wind me up!

LS’s report is characteristic of everyday reports about the way others use language: people describe usage in vague, abstract generalizations (“Sandy gets words mixed up”); they’re inclined to treat usages via their import for them (“Sandy insulted me”); and they are inclined to talk about what others can’t do rather than what they actually do (“Sandy can’t pronounce r”) . From such reports, we can’t tell what Sandy says, in what circumstances. We don’t know what Auth writes in what circumstances, beyond that it has something to do with the spellings grill and grille. John McIntyre’s report, in contrast, is quite clear; we might go on to investigate why one of his authors wrote pallet where palette would be standard, and another wrote palate where palette would be standard, but at least we have some facts to go on.

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seller / cellar

July 10, 2018

In the June 13th One Big Happy, Ruthie’s mother says seller, but Ruthie hears cellar:


Ruthie knows about cellars ‘basements’ (or ‘underground storage rooms’), but apparently not about bestsellers.

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What did the Cretan bull say to Hercules when the hero tamed him?

July 10, 2018

μ μ

(but the bull was real butch about it, and anyway that’s the Greek Way)

Meanwhile, the Greek letter mu is wide open for cow cartoons, like this recent one (from February 1st) by Scott Hilburn, passed on to me by Facebook friends:


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