Flowering pears and secretions

The local landscape has been brightened for some time by flowering pear trees, which are planted all over the place; there’s even a Flowering Pear Drive in Cupertino. These are mostly Callery pears. Whole trees in bloom, and some flowers close up:

The Wikipedia page on the plant leads us to bodily secretions:

The Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) is a species of pear native to China and Vietnam,[2] in the family Rosaceae. It is a deciduous tree growing to 15 to 20 m (49 to 66 ft) tall, often with a conic to rounded crown. The leaves are oval, 4 to 7 cm (1.6 to 2.8 in) long, glossy dark green above, and slightly paler below. The white, five-petaled flowers are about 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.2 in) in diameter. They are produced abundantly in early spring, before the leaves expand fully. The flowers smell like smegma.

The fruits of the Callery pear are small (less than one cm in diameter), and hard (almost woody) until softened by frost, after which they are readily taken by birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings. In summer, the foliage is dark green and very smooth, and in autumn the leaves commonly turn brilliant colors, ranging from yellow and orange to more commonly red, pink, purple, and bronze.

… The species is named after the Italian-French sinologue Joseph-Marie Callery (1810–1862) who sent specimens of the tree to Europe from China.

“Smell like smegma” is the link to bodily secretions. From OED2:

Latin smēgma, < Greek σμῆγμα a detergent, soap, or unguent, < σμήχειν

Physiol. A sebaceous secretion, esp. that found under the prepuce.

1813   Pantologia,   Smegma,..soap. Any concrete substance resembling it, as the hardened matter often found, in the morning, on the lachrymal caruncle.

[from 1877 in the genital sense]

Glosses on some of the terms in this entry:

sebaceous: ‘pertaining to, of the nature of, or resembling tallow or fat; oily, greasy’; more specifically, ‘ having the nature or characteristics of sebum; connected with the secretion of sebum’ (OED2)

sebum: ‘the fatty secretion which lubricates the hair and the skin’ (OED2)

prepuce: ‘foreskin’

lachrymal caruncle: ‘red portion of the corner of the eye that contains modified sebaceous and sweat glands’ (Wikipedia)

Note the connection here between genital smegma and the hardened matter often found, in the morning, in the corner of the eye; both are seen as resembling soap.

This hardened matter has many slang names, among them:

matter, sleep, sleepies, sleepydust, crusties, eye crust, eye boogers, eye gunk, duck butter, gound

(OED2 marks gound — ‘foul matter, esp. that secreted in the eye’ — as obsolete; it has cites from c1000 through 1671.)

Technically, sleep in the eye is a type of rheum. Rheum in OED3 (June 2010):

Watery or mucous secretions, esp. as collecting in or dripping from the eyes, nose, or mouth, originally believed to originate in the brain or head and to be capable of causing disease

My favorite of the slang terms is duck butter. Once again a connection between genital smegma and ocular rheum. Green’s Dictionary of Slang (vol. 1, p. 1784) explains the compound as combining duck (from the smell, reminiscent of duck droppings) and butter (for the color). Green’s earliest cites for the compound are for the meaning ‘semen’ (from 1933 on), with the now dominant sense ‘genital smegma’ attested from 1965 on. Sources like Urban Dictionary add other senses, in particular ‘accumulated sweat and dead skin cells underneath the genitals’ and ‘natural anal lubrication’ (ass juice).

There are also two commercial products that have been named Duck Butter (no doubt jocularly): a brand of pipe joint lubricant and a brand of hot sauce. And you can find recipes for a spread called “duck butter”, made of cream cheese and blue cheese, with Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. No duck is involved in any of these cases.

It’s not hard to imagine a spread made from ground duck meat. Maple Leaf Farms, which markets ground duck meat, offers ten suggestions for using it:

1. There’s nothing better than burgers on the grill. Duck meat burgers are even better.
2. Liven up your party dip with a little ground duck meat. Insert chip and enjoy.
3. Easy casserole: mac and cheese, plus ground duck meat. Voila!
4. Who doesn’t love pizza? Ground duck meat is the perfect topping.
5. Add your own spices and make duck sausage.
6. For a quick comfort food, substitute ground duck meat for ground beef in chili.
7. Add some ground duck meat to scrambled eggs or an omelet for additional protein.
8. Ground Duck Meat + Veggies + Broth = Duck Vegetable Soup
9. Update sloppy joes by using ground duck meat instead of beef with your favorite barbeque sauce.
10. Add a twist to traditional tacos by adding ground duck meat. Easy and tasty!

#2 is as close as they get to duck meat spread. Mostly the suggestions are simple replacements of ground beef by ground duck.

There is, of course, something called duck sauce — but it’s a (Chinese) sauce *for* duck, not one made *from* duck.


3 Responses to “Flowering pears and secretions”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    The ubiquitous “Bradford pear” is a sterile cultivar of Pyrus calleryana that’s grafted onto rootstocks of wild-type Callery pears to produce those Martha-Stewart-perfect trees. The trees only live about 25 years and are fragile, often getting broken in windstorms, but the worst thing about them is that if the rootstock dies, you get fully fertile wild-type trees that have become a serious invasive in Tennessee, forming impenetrable “calleryana hells” (which however are excellent songbird cover).

  2. Stone fruits, nuts, and berries | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A blog mostly about language « Flowering pears and secretions […]

  3. the ridger Says:

    Birds like robins and cedar waxwings swarm all over Bradfords (and other calleries, I suppose) in the winter.

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