Speaking in tongues

Specifically, cod tongues. In a brief piece in the Economist‘s April 17th 2021 issue (behind a paywall,alas), p. 46, with the following assortment of headers:

[superheadline] Lip service [on-line] / Norwegian cuisine [in print]

[headine] Fish tongues, a Norwegian delicacy harvested by children [on-line] / Fish tongues, harvested by children [in print]

[subheadline] The piece of cod that passeth all understanding

My focus is that subhead, which is a play — very close to a perfect pun — on the beginning of a verse from the Christian Bible, Philippians 4:7. In the KJV:

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The crucial bits of the story:

Fried in butter with a light flour batter and some dried herbs, cod tongue is a delicacy in Norway and beyond. Around 80 tonnes are harvested every year from fish caught in Norway’s northern waters. Softer in texture than the flesh of the fish, cod tongue dissolves in the mouth with a hint of saltiness. It is the “angels’ share” of the fish, says Jan-Erik Indrestrand of Fiskarlaget, the Norwegian fishermen’s association.

… In other ways, however, the art of tungeskjæring has changed little over the centuries. Most controversially, to modern sensibilities, the fiddly work of removing the tongue from an already-beheaded fish is reserved mainly for children. The practice serves as a kind of apprenticeship for would-be fisherfolk, and it pays handsomely.  The tongues are valuable, so an hour’s work can pay 1,200 kronor ($143); not bad if you’re six.

The illustration, with the pay rounded off:

the peace of God and the piece of cod are almost perfect puns, differing only in the voicing of the word-initial velar stop: voiced /g/ in God, voiceless /k/ in cod.

Just how close the two occurrences of passeth all understanding are in content depends on your attitude towards eating cod tongue: if you think it’s inexplicable, then the peace of God … passeth all understanding and the piece of cod … passeth all understanding are congruent in content; but if you’re cool with cod tongue, then the two are discordant, and the biblical verse is only being used because of its familiarity and its phonological form (which allows the pun).

Background on this blog. From my 5/18/19 posting “Ostentatiously playful allusions” (OPAs, for short.)

The contrast is to inconspicuously playful allusions, what I’ve called Easter egg quotations on this blog.

… [with three Economist OPAs] illustrating three levels of closeness between the content of the OPA and the topic of the article: no substantive relationship between the two …, tangential relationship …, and tight relationship…

… [they] also illustrate three degrees of paronomasia: … a (phonologically) perfect pun; … an imperfect pun; and … no pun at all, but whole-word substitutions.

Content closeness and phonological closeness are clearly roughly scalar (there are degrees of both), with more than three levels (though it’s hard to make these judgments precise, and might be pointless to try to do so).

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