More cheese, and conversion by truncation

A comment (of 8/23) by Andy Sleeper on my haloumi posting:

At a hotel in Chicago recently, at the breakfast buffet, they were serving some dish with egg, meat, and cheese, with a little sign saying “Scrambled with chorizo sausage and chihuahua.” [Note that chorizo would have done fine here; chorizo is the name of a type of pork sausage, so that chorizo sausage is an expansion of chorizo — similar to Brie cheese versus Brie.]

Adjectives with assumed nouns are asking for trouble, it seems to me. From scrambled, I understand eggs, though it could have been brains.

After I inquired, I learned that “chihuahua” refers to a type of cheese I had never heard of. I think “cheese” would have been an important word to include.

First, a note on Chihuahua cheese, then on the “conversion by truncation” in scrambled for scrambled eggs and chihuahua for Chihuahua cheese.

Chihuahua cheese. From Wikipedia:

In Mexico, queso Chihuahua [note Spanish word order, with the modifier following the head noun; Chihuaha cheese is the English equivalent] is commonly recognized as a soft white cow’s-milk cheese available in braids, balls or rounds and originates in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. In Chihuahua, it is called queso menonita, after the Mennonite communities of northern Mexico that first produced it, while elsewhere it is called queso chihuahua. This cheese is now made by both Mennonites and non-Mennonites throughout the state and is popular all over the country.

Queso Chihuahua is good for melting and is similar to a mild, white cheddar or Monterey Jack. It may be used in queso fundido (fondue style melted cheese), choriqueso, quesadillas, chilaquiles, chili con queso, or sauces.

In the United States, Chihuahua is a federally registered trademark for cheese and sour cream owned by V&V Supremo Foods, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois.

The cheese, in the supermarket and on the hoof:



Conversion by truncation. From my 1/6/10 posting on the subject:

Very commonly, adjectival modifiers are converted to nouns by truncation, with the Adj in an Adj + N phrase treated, at least historically, as a noun with (roughly) the meaning of the whole phrase. [There is] a related shift in the meaning of a N — with the first N in a N + N compound noun treated as having the meaning of the whole compound.

That posting was focused on greenhouse understood as ‘greenhouse gases’, but also listed some examples of Adj-to-N conversion by truncation (of which there are truly an enormous number).

In Sleeper’s example, scrambled is an Adj conversion, chihuahua a N conversion. The example illustrates another fact about abbreviatory phenomena of all types, including these truncations: they depend exquisitely on context and background knowledge for their interpretation. What you gain in brevity you lose in (context-independent) clarity.

In the case at hand, it’s important that we’re looking at breakfast offerings (a matter of context) in the US, where eggs are a component of the canonical breakfast and chihuahua dogs are not (matters of background knowledge). Granted, I was a bit surprised that chihuahua referring to cheese turned up in a Chicago hotel — as opposed to in a restaurant around here, where Mexican foods are commonplace (queso fundido is offered in at least one (high-end) restaurant within two blocks of my house), but maybe Mexican cuisine has spread more widely than I thought.

One Response to “More cheese, and conversion by truncation”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Amy Dahlstrom on Facebook:

    I’m not surprised by the truncation of ‘chihuahua’ in a Chicago context. For one thing, Chicago is the 2nd largest Mexican city in the U.S., after LA! And as you note, the Supremo brand is local to Chicago: it’s sold not only in the ethnically Mexican groceries but also in mainstream stores. So I think Chicagoans beyond the subsets of Mexican-Americans and foodies know chihuahua as a cheese.

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