Chic peas and more

The fall special at Dan Gordon’s (on Emerson St. in Palo Alto), as it first appeared on the menu, about a month ago:

Summer Stew $16.95
smoked pork / cippolini onions / chic peas / prunes / red rice

(with the very notable spelling chic peas and with the misspelling cippolini for cipollini). But now the ingredients list reads:

smoked pork / cippolini onions / chickpeas / dehydrated plums / red rice

(with the notable dehydrated plums). Actually, all four ingredients have linguistic interest.

I’ll start with the gnarliest of the four, chic peas and cippolini onions.

chic peas. The reference is in fact to chickpeas (I have seen, and tasted, the stew), the cooked seeds of the legume plant Cicer arietinum. The word chickpea has a fairly extraordinary history (highlights below), but for the moment what’s important is that the chick part has nothing to do with chickens (at any stage of their development) — or with these borrowed lexical items pronounced /šik/ (rather than /čɪk/):

adj. chic: elegantly and stylishly fashionable. noun chic: stylishness and elegance, typically of a specified kind: French chic | biker chic. ORIGIN mid 19th century: from French, probably from German Schick ‘skill’.

More detail on chickpea, from NOAD:

noun chickpea [AZ: also chick pea]: 1 a round yellowish seed, used widely as food [AZ: among other things, it is the basis for the dipspread hummus]. Also called garbanzo. [added by AZ: 1x such a seed, cooked for food] 2 the leguminous Old World plant which bears chickpeas. Cicer arietinum, family Leguminosae.

A bowl of chickpeas in sense 1x:

(#1) Lebanese chickpea stew, from the Holy Cow! vegan recipes site on 4/7/16

So where did the chic spelling come from? Presumably, from the spelling of the ‘stylish’ items. Then the question is why the person who wrote the menu item chose that spelling.

One possibility is that they are among the small number of people who think, erroneously, that the spelling chic is associated with the pronunciation /čɪk/ — and that there are also the ‘stylish’ items (which they’ve learned from hearing people say them) pronounced /šik/ (and probably spelled sheek). That would make this case somewhat similar to the case of clique, for which both /klɪk/ (a pronunciation based on the spelling) and /klik/ (a pronunciation based on hearing other people’s productions) are current. And closely similar to the case of the noun epitome, which has an erroneous pronunciation /ˈɛpɪtˌom/ (from reading) and a correct pronunciation /ɪpˈɪtǝmi/ (from hearing).

But the writer of the menu could have been entirely aware of the chick /čɪk/ vs. chic /šik/ contrast but playfully chose the second spelling to represent the first pronunciation, presumably for the visual associations of the spelling with stylishness. That’s a decision that others have made: chic deliberately chosen to represent /čɪk/.

(You might be wondering why I didn’t dig up the writer of the original menu item and ask them why they chose this spelling. That would in principle be possible, but in my experience finding the original writer isn’t an easy task, and they are rarely able to introspect usefully on the reasons for their spelling choices weeks before.)

Two examples of intentional chic /čɪk/, one from Canada, one from Australia.

From Canada, Chic Peas Veg in Toronto:

(#2) “Eritrea-born Naza Hasebenebi is the proud owner and founder of CHIC PEAS VEG: a plant-based [in fact, vegan] company that offers catering, meal plans, cooking classes and in-school workshops in Toronto and the surrounding areas”

And from Australia, The Happy Snack Company‘s Chic Peas:

(#3) “The Happy Snack Company Chic Peas are nutritious, Australian grown chickpeas, slow-roasted to perfection and seasoned with all natural ingredients. A deliciously crunchy, wholesome snack the whole family can enjoy, chickpeas are 100% nut and gluten free and come with a 5 Star Health rating.”

A final chickpea / chic pea note, on the etymology of chickpea. From OED2:

In 16–17th cent. cich-pease, chich-pease, < cich , chich n. + pease n., after French pois chiche (earlier simply chiche); but in the 18th cent. altered (by some error) to chick-pea

That is, cich(e) (‘chickpea’ < Fr. < Lat. cicer ‘chickpea’) + pease (‘pea’ < Lat. pisum < Gk. pison; ModE pea is back-formed from pease, (mis)understood as a plural). Earlier English cich(e) pease was then a species-genus compound; see the section on these in my 2/23/17 posting “Morning: spanakopita”, with examples like spanakopita pie, collie dog, and matzo bread. Species-genus compounds have an air of redundancy or pleonasm about them, because the reference to a species in the first element suggests a reference to the genus including that species in the second: spanakopitas are pies, collies are dogs, matzos are bread.

In ModE, chickpea is a largely opaque N + N compound: it’s vaguely subsective (a chickpea is in the pea/bean family — the legumes, now Fabaceae — though most people would balk at saying that a chickpea is a pea, or for that matter a bean), and the first element is no longer identifiable as a meaningful unit (though it sounds like chick ‘young chicken’).

cippolini onions. Like chickpeas, the plural of a N + N compound: the plural of cippolini onion. Two questions about the first element here: its spelling (the easy bit), and its form (another tangled mess).

The spelling cippolini is a straightforward error for cipollini, but one that’s incredibly attractive. The first thing to note is that the error has the form of a very common kind of typo, the misplaced geminate: you know that some expression you’re about to type or write has a doubled letter in it, but you double the wrong letter. The geminate can appear too early, as in the error reported on in my 10/4/12 posting “Planning at an abstract level”:

[the Old] LOGG IN for [the Old] LOG INN

Or it can appear too late, as in the error reported on in my 12/14/14 posting “fagoot”:


CIPPOLINI for CIPOLLINI has the geminate too early.

But there’s more, which would help to explain why the Dan Gordon misspelling has persisted for weeks, through several printings of the specials menu. If you just saw the spelling CIPOLLINI, you might be tempted to put the primary accent on the second syllable, because of the geminate LL after the vowel letter O (crudely, the a sequence of two consonant letters attracts accent). That is,

/čɪˈpolɪni/ (or /čɪˈpolǝni/)

But you know that the actual pronunciation is


(with accents on the first and third syllables), and a geminate PP would predict that. So the typo doesn’t get corrected, because it “looks right”.

Ok, from here on I’m going to spell the word correctly, as CIPOLLINI. (And I’ll stop putting spellings in all-caps.)

Now to the actual edibles. From the Kitchn site on 7/9/10, in the enthusiastic “Sweet and Mild: What’s the Deal with Cipollini Onions?” by Emma Christensen (two expressions boldfaced for reference below):


We’ve been seeing more and more of these little guys recently and we couldn’t be happier. Cipollini onions (pronounced chip-oh-lee-knee) were once a rare treat only to be found at fancy restaurants and the occasional gourmet market. We’re glad they’re finally getting their due attention … Now what exactly are they?

Their name literally means “little onion” in Italian, and indeed they are! Cipollinis are about the size of a golf ball with a slightly flattened appearance. They’re thin-skinned and have translucent white flesh with more residual sugar than your average yellow or white onion.

Which makes them incredible for roasting or caramelizing. Roasted whole in the oven or cooked in a little butter on the stove top, cipollinis become soft and practically melt in your mouth. Those residual sugars caramelize and concentrate, leaving behind none of the astringent raw onion flavor.

Ok, it starts with Italian. Some words and forms:

It. cipolla ‘onion’, pl. cipolle; dim. cipollina ‘chive’, pl. cipolline

Presumably at some point there was a masc. diminutive alongside the fem. diminutive above:

It. cipollino ‘type of (small) onion’, pl. cipollini

At this point, the word cipollini was borrowed into English to refer to a particular kind of small onion — borrowed as an English C[ount] noun with sg. cippolini, regular pl. cippolinis. Its previous history as an Italian plural is now beside the point. In English, it can serve as the first element in the species-genus compound (see above) cipollini onion, with pl. cipollini onions (as in the Kitchn quote). Or it can stand on its own as a noun referring to a cippolini onion: a cippolini, several cippolinis, bare pl. cippolinis (as in the Kitchn quote).

In the Kitchn quote, pl. cipollinis and cipollini onions. Cites for the sg. forms:

A cipollini is a super sweet onion that is available year round. (link)

What is a Cipollini Onion? (link)

Now to some less complicated stuff.

smoked pork. This has the

verb smoke: [with object] (often as adjective smoked) cure or preserve (meat or fish) by exposure to smoke: smoked salmon (NOAD)

— a culinary verbing of the noun smoke, much more specialized in meaning than the general ‘to treat sth. with smoke, to use smoke on/with/for sth.’

prunes. About the familiar foodstuff. From Wikipedia:


A prune is a dried plum of any cultivar, mostly Prunus domestica or European Plum…

Most prunes are freestone cultivars (the pit is easy to remove), whereas most other plums grown for fresh consumption are clingstone (the pit is more difficult to remove).

More than 1,000 plum cultivars are grown for drying. The main cultivar grown in the United States is the Improved French prune [that is, the Improved French prune plum]. Other varieties include Sutter, Tulare Giant, Moyer, Imperial, Italian, and Greengage…

For me, the pleasures of fall fruits include especially Concord grapes, persimmons, and Italian prune plums, like these:


Now, about the labeling change on the DG specials menu, from prunes at first, to dehydrated plums more recently. The label dehydrated plums was new to me; it appears to be a fancied-up version of the cautious (euphemistic) label dried plums. On the latter, from the Wikipedia prune article:

In 2001, plum growers in the United States were authorised by the government to call prunes “dried plums”. Due to the popular U.S. perception of prunes being used only for relief of constipation, and being the subject of related joking, many distributors stopped using the word “prune” on packaging labels in favour of “dried plums”.

red rice. At first glance, this expression is just a nominal composite, of modifying Adj and head N, denoting rice that is red in color. In fact, the expression is semantically much more specialized than that, and is also potentially ambiguous between two very different readings, one referring to a type of grain, one referring to a type of cooked rice.

From Wikipedia on the first:

(#7) Thai red rice

Red rice is a variety of rice that is colored red by its anthocyanin content. It is usually eaten unhulled or partially hulled, and has a red husk, rather than the more common brown. Red rice has a nutty flavor. Compared to polished rice, it has the highest nutritional value of rices eaten with the germ intact.

On the other hand, there is rice that is made red by cooking it with tomato paste; in particular, there is Mexican red rice (in the stew at DB). On the Cocina Marie site, a recipe for “Mexican red rice” by Marie Saba on 12/12/14:


Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter; 1 clove garlic, peeled; 1 cup white rice, preferably Mahatma Basmati; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 Tablespoon tomato paste; 1 cup reduced-sodium beef or chicken stock; 1 cup water.

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