Annals of category labels: food from a hole in the ground

… or edible roots (with root covering any underground plant organ), or whatever you call the stuff. In the 7/30 One Big Happy, Ruthie, confronted with /hol fudz/, takes it to be just such a label, hole foods, when her mother is referring instead to a grocery store, Whole Foods:


The conventional (semi-technical) label for the category in question is root vegetables.

As in this display:

(#2) Longer list of root vegetables (not pretending to be complete): beet, carrot, celeriac / celery root, fennel, garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichoke / sunchoke, jicama, onion, parsnip, potato, radish (and daikon), rutabaga, salsify, shallot, sweet potato, turnip, yuca

Accentual note. As a N + N compound, root vegetables has its primary accent on the first element: ROOT vegetables. Similarly with Ruthie’s hole foods: HOLE foods /hól fùdz/.

Meanwhile, as an Adj + N nominal, Whole Foods has its primary accent on the second element: Whole FOODS /hòl fúdz/. Similarly with edible roots: edible ROOTS.

(#3) Whole Foods Palo Alto, at the northwest corner of Emerson St. and Homer Ave., just around the corner from my house

So what her mother said and what Ruthie perceived are not in fact perfectly homophonous, since they differ in their accent patterns: hole foods and Whole Foods are an accentual minimal pair. However, accent in English multi-word expressions is sufficiently variable that people are often willing to disregard accentual differences in interpreting what they hear; and, in any event, even if distinct accentually, hole foods and Whole Foods are still very similar phonetically.

Note on categories. Like other everyday (rather than technical) categories, the category ROOT-VEG (under whatever label) is not determined entirely by the physical characteristics of its members; equally important is the function of these members in our culture. NOAD‘s definition stresses both form and function:

noun root vegetable: the fleshy enlarged root of a plant used [culinarily] as a vegetable, e.g., a carrot, rutabaga, or beet.

In Western cuisines, root vegetables (to give the category its conventional label) often function together, for instance in roasted root vegetables as a dish and in combinations of mashed root vegetables (as in mashed potatoes and celery root). But, in any case, we tend to think of these plant parts as constituting a class, distinct both from other plant parts (stems, leaves, buds, flowers, fruits) and from other roots — from the fibrous root systems of many plants, even if they are in principle edible (as the roots of the borage plant are), and from fleshy or tuberous roots that aren’t used for food (dahlia roots, asparagus roots, the tuberous roots of Orchis plants).

Note on compound semantics. As a fresh innovation (rather than a conventionalized collocation like root vegetables), Ruthie’s N + N compound hole foods is immediately interpretable in many ways: for instance, foods with holes in them, foods that create holes in something, foods that grow in holes (Ruthie’s interpretation), foods that look like holes (say, by being concave in form, which means that the foods in question might be seen as vaginal symbols), foods for (filling or feeding) holes (which might then be understood as phallic symbols: penises as foods for filling or feeding sexcavities).  There are almost always sexual interpretations lurking in the background.

This posting will now take a turn that is not suitable for kids or the sexually modest. So leave now if such material doesn’t suit you.

Food and sex. I’ll now explore the last of these ideas, with hole foods as the name of an establishment that supplies food for your hole — if you’re gay, a filling for your anus, in particular. This interpretation might not have occurred to me if I hadn’t been sitting on some material from long ago in which Whole Foods and a gay sex club are entertainingly juxtaposed.

This material came in e-mail from Max Vasilatos on the gay baths near where she lives in San Francisco, Eros SF:

(#3) “Convenient Location: 2051 Market Street near Church Street, across from the Safeway and on the same block as Whole Foods.”

Groceries and sex, all together. Safe sex — emphasized at Eros — and Safeway; hole foods — get the satisfaction of a great fuck, get stuffed, dude! — and Whole Foods, with its aura of wholesomeness. Abandon yourself to your desires, but do it earnestly, in a safe, clean place, with style! (At least that’s the theory.)

More from their website:


Our Facility: Eros features luxurious amenities to help you play safe, feel good, relax and clean up. Once you are inside our doors, the rest of the world goes away. You’re in “gay space,” sex-positive space where you can cruise, play one-on-one or in groups. Act out your sexiest fantasy!

There’s a community room downstairs, with steam room, sauna, and showers.

Our upstairs playrooms boast the stuff that m4m fantasies are made of — prowl, cruise, connect, in a jungle jim-like maze of upholstered play platforms, bunk beds (like a kinky summer camp), suck platform and a sling.

Free safe sex supplies — condoms and gloves — are always in reach. Our favorite convenience are the wall-mounted soap dispensers filled with lube.

Our video areas show the latest in gay porn, with room to jack-off, or join in.

That’s in SF. Across the bay in Berkeley, Steamworks. And down in San Jose, the venerable Watergarden, which I used to enjoy, long ago in a previous life.

This has been another report on the sexual institutions of the gay male social world.

3 Responses to “Annals of category labels: food from a hole in the ground”

  1. Max Vasilatos Says:

    From the title, I thought this was going to be about that Asian shrimp goop they used to (still do?) bury and wait for it to ferment, fingers crossed it won’t end up causing dysentery. This is better.

  2. Stewart Kramer Says:

    Also, not all underground plant parts are roots. Onions are leaves modified to be storage organs.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I added the parenthetical note about the term root (used in its extended sense rather than in its narrower technical sense) to cover all the cases in ordinary English.

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