I start with a Mark Stivers cartoon (from 11/16/14) that was reprinted (in b&w) in the November Funny Times:


Reubenesque in the cartoon (referring to the Reuben sandwich, illustrated there), playing on Rubenesque (referring to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, known, among other things, for the plump — “full and rounded” in OED3 — female figures in his paintings), both pronounced /ˌrubɪnˈɛsk/. The Reuben sandwich in the cartoon is metaphorically Rubenesque: plump with its components, as it should be.

This play on words will take us in several directions; here are some preliminary comments, in no particular order.

The Rubens full-figured woman. An example of the work of the Flemish Baroque painter (1577-1640): Venus, Cupid, Bacchus and Ceres (1612):


The characters are listed in the title in the order of their significance to Rubens. Left to right in the painting: Ceres, Bacchus, Venus, Cupid.

The Reuben sandwich. This is

a hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread [and served with a dill pickle]

(from “Reuben and Rachel”, a 3/27/15 posting on this blog, which has pictures). Reubens are typically crammed with stuff, and they’re messy to eat.

Mark Stivers. Earlier on this blog:

4/24/11: “The sexual connection”, here

6/17/12: “Meat math”, here

Four more Stivers cartoons to come in this posting, two of them on the Reuben theme.

The word Rubenesque. You might expect that the -esque adjective derived from the name Rubens would be Rubensesque, and that version is attested and is still used today. But the simpified Rubenesque — which makes the play on the sandwich name Reuben easier — is older (OED3 (March 2011) has it from 1815, while Rubensesque it has from 1834) and pretty clearly predominates today.

On the derivational suffix, from Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

In the style of; resembling [from French, via Italian –esco from medieval Latin –iscus]

This suffix is commonly attached to personal names to form adjectives that indicate a creative work in that person’s style: Caravaggesque (from the Italian painter Caravaggio), Chaplinesque, Disneyesque (usually today the organization rather than the late Walt Disney himself), Felliniesque, Kafkaesque, Pinteresque, Tolkienesque. It can also be attached to names of periods of architecture (Romanesque) and generates words referring to the beliefs or personal characteristics of an individual, usually in politics: Clintonesque, Majoresque, Thatcheresque. Such terms are frequently created at need and are often ephemeral.

This is the neutral, at-face-value use of a element meaning ‘like, resembling’ (specifically ‘resembling the style of’). But any element with this semantics is always available for a hedged use: if you say that something is like X, you might be implicating that it is merely like X, that in fact it fails to achieve full Xness. This implicature is very strong for the resemblance suffix –ish (he might be Kennedyish, but he’s no Jack Kennedy), but it’s also available for –esque (he might be Kennedyesque, but he’s no Jack Kennedy).

As it happens, Stivers has been playing with Reubenesque for some years. Here’s a neutral use, from 2003:


But here’s a use (from almost the same time (11/15/14) as #1) that I understand as implicating imperfect approximation:


As I read this, the hot dog knows that it’s no Reuben, but it’s flattered by the comparison.

More Stivers. Stivers likes word play, as in this 2012 cartoon turning on the ambiguity of model:


Two senses of model here. From NOAD2:

a three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure. [as in a molecular model, in the cartoon]

a person, typically a woman, employed to display clothes by wearing them: a fashion model. A person employed to pose for an artist, photographer, or sculptor. [as in the dude’s pick-up line]

Then a much-appreciated cartoon by Stivers in 2003 that takes up the popular Pavlov theme:


Earlier Pavlov action on this blog:

10/11/15: “Pavlov’s cat”, here (Maria Scrivan cartoon)

10/20/15: “Going to the dogs:”, #2 here (Phil Selby cartoon)

Back to (sort-of) Reuben sandwiches. Meanwhile, in the webfood world, the hedged Reubenesque has taken on some life. Here’s an April 2013 piece from the (Chicago) Serious Eats site, “14 Cheap Eats We Love in Chicago’s Bucktown” by Nick Kindelsperger:

I’ll be brutally honest and admit that I was severely disappointed when I first laid eyes on The Reubenesque ($8.50) at Li’l Guys Deli [2010 N. Damien]. When I’m promised corned beef that’s been cured onsite for a week, braised for 12 hours in a special slow roaster, and sliced to order, I start to imagine St. Patty’s Day-levels of excess. A Manny’s-style corned beef sprawl of a sandwich this is not, but this diminutive and — all right, I’ll say it — small corned beef sandwich actually won me over.

The rye is straightforward and toasted just enough to provide a solid backbone for the smidge of Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, and corned beef. The impossibly thin shards of meat actually make for the easiest bite I’ve ever had of a Reuben. There is no stringy trail of beef or kraut after taking a bite. In fact, the beauty of this sandwich is that you barely need a napkin at all. I ate the whole thing and was still able to take the bus afterwards without feeling the queasiness reminiscent of the morning after St. Patty’s Day.


Or you could do it at home. From the Get Off the Couch and Cook site, instructions for making the “Not-a-Reuben, or the Reuben-esque, Sandwich”, in which:

Lean roast beef, Swiss cheese, shredded cabbage, and homemade sauce on rye bread come together for a lightened version of a classic Reuben sandwich.


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