plate my meal

Instructions on meals from the Freshly firm, which is currently supplying me with food at home:

[FR] We recommend plating your meal after heating [that is, after heating it in the microwavable tray it comes in]

This has the verbing to plate; from NOAD2:

serve or arrange (food) on a plate or plates before a meal: overcooked vegetables won’t look appetizing, no matter how they are plated.

Two things: why verb the noun plate? And why not other dinnerware nouns?

The utility of to plate. To start with, this verbing is pretty recent. From OED3 (June 2006) on the verb plate:

10. trans. To put on a plate; to serve upon a plate. Also with up. [first cite:]
1953 T. A. G. Hungerford Riverslake 198  He went up to the mess to plate the meat.

Early cites, and (so far as I can tell) most cites thereafter, are about the professional preparation and serving of food: chefs, cooks, and servers in restaurants plate food. That is, plating X is (for the most part) not merely putting X on a plate, but doing so in a foodie context.

That fact makes the example [FR] especially interesting: in it, Freshly users are being treated as food specialists, not just people having a meal: we are advised to plate food as if we were serving it in a restaurant. (Alternatively, the verbing to plate may be in the process of losing its pragmatic specificity, moving towards merely conveying ‘to put on a plate’.)

The conceptual domain DISH. The noun plate picks out one set of referents in the conceptual domain DISH (itself a subset of the larger conceptual domain of DINNERWARE). Objects in the DISH domain are used to serve food. There are two subtypes: FLAT-DISH (including the referents of plate, platter, and tray) and CONCAVE-DISH (including the referents of bowl, cup, and mug). (Nouns in the FLAT-DISH domain take the P onserve the stew / meat on a plate / platter / tray — while nouns in the CONCAVE-DISH domain take the P inserve the stew / soup in a bowl / cup / mug.)

Now, so far as I can tell, if any nouns in the DISH domain other than plate have been verbed, these verbings were one-shot, nonce events, not meriting inclusion in a dictionary (the way to plate has made it into NOAD2 and OED3: while They plattered / trayed the hors-d’oeuvres and I bowled the soup and Sandy mugged the coffee might be interpretable in context, they are clearly inventions requiring lots of interpretive work.

Now some speculation as to why plate was the first of the DISH nouns to get verbed: in the DISH domain, FLAT-DISH is semantically/pragmatically more central. A dish can be either flat or concave — plates and bowls are both dishes — but out of context, you’ll probably think of a flat one; and in the FLAT-DISH domain, plates are semantically/pragmatically more central — out of context, not only are you likely to think of a flat dish, but you’ll probably think of a plate rather than a platter or a tray.That is, ceteris paribus, plates are more psychologically available than other dishes, so the word plate is most easily converted to a verb use. (The accidents of lexical history might of course have picked out another noun as first past the line in the race to verbhood; but plate had a leg up on the others.)

One Response to “plate my meal”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Note however dish out, to serve in a dish, usually in a cafeteria-line type of context (and since extended to metaphorical uses). Not sure how or if that usage is related to slang dish as both verb and noun referring to gossip.

    And “Sandy mugged the coffee” gave me a chuckle.

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