Painting food

One of the incidental pleasures (for a linguist) of spending time with small children is being reminded (or actually discovering) things about the language(s) you share with them.

Case in point: at breakfast with my daughter (Elizabeth) and her daughter (Opal) a little while ago, we got into a discussion of paintings. One of us observed that lots of paintings were of people, and Elizabeth volunteered that such paintings were called portraits. (Middle-class parents are given to commenting explicitly to their children on vocabulary.) I concurred, and Opal was happy with that.

Getting into the spirit of the thing, I went on to say that many people painted food, in particular fruits and vegetables.

Opal made her EWW face, at which point Elizabeth and I realized she was thinking we were saying that some people applied paint to fruits and vegetables — which would, of course, in most cases make them entirely inedible. The sense of the verb paint she got was that of painting buildings, walls, faces (facepainting children is a popular event at community festivals), and the like.

Obviously, she had more than one sense of the verb, since she used paint as ‘make a painting of’ in other contexts. The trick is in selecting the appropriate sense in this particular context, and that requires knowing not just the meanings of the verbs but also knowing a good bit about cultural practices (for instance, that artists generally do not apply paint to foodstuffs).

Oh yes, Elizabeth and I took the occasion to introduce the expression still life.

One Response to “Painting food”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    I hope Opal’s understanding of “portrait” is not as “face-painting”, “tattoo”, or the like.

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