The trail mixer

Maggie Larson cartoon in the New Yorker‘s 4/8/19 issue:

(#1) (Dried) fruits and nuts meeting and greeting, under the disco ball

A POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau): trail mixer = trail mix + mixer. Combining two elements very much grounded in particular sociocultural worlds (plus that disco ball glittering overhead).

Trail mix. From NOAD:

noun trail mix: a mixture of dried fruit and nuts eaten as a snack food, originally by hikers and campers.

English names for the mixture — trail mix and gorp — have been around in North America for 40 years or so. Hiking and camping (and mountain-climbing) for pleasure (rather than necessity) go back well before that; the practice seems to have become widespread in the 18th century, in loose association with the appreciation and celebration of Nature in European Romantic movements.

In any case, if you’re going to engage in such activities, you’ll need to take along food to sustain yourself; this food should be lightweight, portable, resistant to spoiling, and a source of both energy (in the short-run) and strength (in the long-run), so both carbohydrates and protein. Someone had the idea of using dried fruit and nuts (raw or roasted) together for this purpose; it became a food convention for some communities of hikers and campers; and it picked up names. From OED3 (Dec. 2001) on the noun gorp:

colloquial (orig. and chiefly North American).

A mixture of dried fruit and nuts, often with seeds and other high-calorie foods such as chocolate, eaten as a snack food, originally by walkers and campers. Its popularity with hikers accounts for its alternative name, trail mix.

1972  K. Craighead & D. Craighead in  National Geographic May 581/1 Along the trail, we munch candy bars or ‘gorp’— a mixture of raisins, nuts, and sweets.

1985  A. Tyler Accidental Tourist xix. 307 ‘I’m not even going to ask what gorp is,’ Sarah said. ‘It’s a mixture of wheat germ and nuts and dried—.’

1994  Outdoor Canada May 28/1 Lunch needn’t be a fancy affair… It can be as simple as pulling ashore for a half-hour breather, a cup of coffee and a can of sardines, or a swig of lemonade to wash down a few fistfuls of gorp.

2000  Wired July 218 Stuff the new, stronger micro-ripstop nylon bag’s 1,800-cubic-inch cargo hold with a climbing rack, your fleece, and some gorp.

(Acronymic etymologies for gorp are entertaining but merely fanciful.)

And from the draft additions of August 2001 to OED2 for the noun trail:

trail mix  n. orig. and chiefly North American = gorp n.

1977  Washington Post (Nexis) 1 Sept. g26 We tried several kinds, good and not so good, before locating what for us was the perfect Trail Mix.

1981 M. Cunningham & J. Laber Fannie Farmer Cookbk. (1988) 72 Created to provide energy for hikers, trail mix or ‘gorp’ has become an all-purpose snack.

1992 I. Pattison More Rab C. Nesbitt Scripts 10 No worries, my man. I know how yi feel. Get any more dehydrated and yi could use yir balls for trail mix.

2001 Palm Beach (Florida) Post (Electronic ed.) 1 Mar. A Tupperware bowl filled with cheese-flavored trail mix — with cooked mealworms added for flavor — also made the rounds.

(Separately, candy bars for hikers evolved into protein bars or granola bars.)

Trail mix comes in variants of all sorts: raw or roasted, unsalted or salted, plain or spicy, with or without candy bits, heavy on the fruit or heavy on the nuts, specifically with tropical fruits, etc. Ads for particular varieties are often artful arrangements of the ingredients. The Albanese Candy Co.’s energy trail mix (raw):

(#2) Still Life in Fruit and Nuts

Perfectly mixed to get you going. Our gourmet nuts & seeds are packed full of protein giving you the burst of energy you need. Featuring: raisins, blanched peanuts, pecans, cashews, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas & Brazil nuts.

The mixer. Extracted from NOAD‘s entry:

noun mixer: … 2 [a] [with adjective] a person considered in terms of their ability to mix socially with others: media people need to be good mixers. [b] North American a social gathering where people can make new acquaintances. …

More detail, and cites, from OED3 (Sept. 2002) for the noun mixer:

6. North American colloquial. A social gathering designed to enable people to get to know one another.

1916  Dial. Notes 4 277 A very successful mixer was given on Charter day.

1948  Downers Grove (Illinois) Reporter 21 Oct. 1/8 The Trojan Fathers Fall Mixer will take place Tuesday, Oct. 26 at the high school auditorium.

1988  Muscular Devel. Nov. 33/1 After his shows, Mits always throws a mixer where workers, guest posers, contestants and Mits himself can kick back and relax.

1995  Maclean’s 7 Aug. 48/1 ‘It’s like a college mixer,’ Brandon Tartikoff says, ‘except here no one wants to go home with an unfunny person.’

A mixer is a sociable event, so it’s different form a meeting or convention; it’s more specific than a gathering or a get-together; it’s different from a party because it has the purpose of fostering acquaintanceship; and it’s different from a date because it involves a number of participants (there are 12 in #4). Though this is by no means a defining characteristic, the canonical mixer, like the canonical date, is intended to foster romantic or sexual connection; it’s one of the customs of the sexual marketplace in the culture of the middle and upper classes in modern North American.

I became familiar with the custom as an undergraduate at Princeton (then an all-male school), where mixers were organized with the Seven Sisters colleges, the aim being to afford everyone involved access to potential marital partners suitably assorted by class.

[Digression 1. From Wikipedia:

The Seven Sisters is a name given to seven liberal arts colleges in the Northeastern United States that are historically women’s colleges. Five of the seven institutions continue to offer all-female undergraduate programs: Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Wellesley College. Vassar College has been co-educational since 1969. Radcliffe College shared common and overlapping history with Harvard College from the time it was founded as “the Harvard Annex” in 1879. Harvard and Radcliffe effectively merged in 1977, but Radcliffe continued to be the sponsoring college for women at Harvard until its dissolution in 1999. Barnard College was Columbia University’s women’s liberal arts undergraduate college until its all-male coordinate school Columbia College went co-ed in 1983; to this day, Barnard continues to be an all-women’s undergraduate college affiliated with Columbia.

All seven schools were founded between 1837 and 1889 [so they are established institutions, “old” by American standards]. Four are in Massachusetts, two are in New York, and one is in Pennsylvania. [And Princeton is in New Jersey, close to both New York and Pennsylvania]]

[Digression 2. The metaphorical sexual marketplace certainly looks like a technical term from sociology or anthropology (where it flourishes) that has also worked its way into more general use (in popular social science).  I have so far been unable to trace the history of this useful term. (The OED has no entry, under either sexual or marketplace, and no uses of it in quotations.)]

The mixer, cont. Mixers play a role in gay culture as in straight, often accompanying some charity event. Two examples, from London (England) and Tucson (AZ):



Gay male mixers aren’t necessarily labeled as such. The meeting and greeting portion of a gay circuit party is in fact a giant gay mixer (at which men negotiate hook-ups, and sometimes find partners for life). From my 6/22/10 posting “Rivers of Babylon”, in a section on gay circuit parties:


a photographic account, of a meet-and-greet party event. This is another one of my collages (entirely non-X-rated), with comments from Chinese fortune cookie fortunes (hence the title, “Circuit Fortune Cookie”) plus a lot of Tarepanda (‘floppy panda’ — a cute Japanese cartoon character)

The disco ball. Larson chose to add a disco ball to the trail mixer scene in #1, presumably because a disco ball conveys excitement, energy, warmth, and movement — and mixers sometimes involve dancing. From Wikipedia:

(#6) The 1977 apotheosis of filmic disco, with dancer Tony Manero and the One Disco Ball that Rules Them All

A disco ball (also known as a mirror ball or glitter ball) is a roughly spherical object that reflects light directed at it in many directions, producing a complex display. Its surface consists of hundreds or thousands of facets, nearly all of approximately the same shape and size, and each having a mirrored surface. Usually it is mounted well above the heads of the people present, suspended from a device that causes it to rotate steadily on a vertical axis, and illuminated by spotlights, so that stationary viewers experience beams of light flashing over them, and see myriad spots of light spinning around the walls of the room.

What are now usually called “disco balls” were first widely used in nightclubs in the 1920s. …  In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, these devices were a standard piece of equipment in discothèques, and by the turn of the millennium, the name “disco ball” had grown quite popular.

Larson’s disco ball led me to two excellent finds. First find, this Seth Fleishman New Yorker cartoon (of 8/22/16):

(#7) The disco dancer as Sisyphus

And second find, on the basis of something that disco balls share with mixers — well, with cement mixers — French conceptual artist Benedetto Bufalino constructed this wonderful hybrid object:

(#8) The disco ball revolves; the cement mixer revolves; and so the Bufalino Disco Ball Cement Mixer (La bétonnière boule à facettes) revolves

From the Bored Panda site, “Artist Turns A Cement Mixer Into A Giant Disco Ball, And You Have To See It In Action”, by James Gould-Bourn (undated):

Ever looked at a cement mixer and thought “You know what? That thing would make an AWESOME disco ball!” Probably not. But French artist Benedetto Bufalino did. He didn’t just think it though. He actually went ahead and made one. And as you can see, it’s pretty freakin’ fabulous.

The installation – titled Disco Ball Cement Mixer – was parked on a construction site in Lyon, France [apparently in December 2017].  Bright spotlights were aimed at the truck so that when the mixer turned, it caught the light and threw out patterns just like everybody’s favorite dance-floor accessory. Nearby residents and passers-by couldn’t help but stop and stare at the unexpected spectacle, while others made the most of a rare opportunity to dance in the beams of the over-sized disco ball. And who can blame them!

For a selection of Benedetto Bufalino’s works from 2007-18, many of them involving astonishing uses of motor vehicles (an overturned police squad car serving as a barbecue, for instance), see this site.

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