Ruthie goes for the donuts

In my comics feed today, a One Big Happy originally from 1/6/03 (20 years ago, and that turns out to be important) in which Ruthie eggcorns the weatherman’s technical term windchill (factor) to Winchell’s (the name of a chain donut shop), which is more familiar to her — but not perhaps to most readers of the strip, even in 2003, when there were a lot more Winchell’s shops around than there are now. But the strip:

(#1) windchill / wind-chill / wind chill is a N + N compound meaning roughly ‘chill caused by wind’, but is in fact a technical term in metereology (and its connection to chill and wind might not be clear to someone who in passing hears tv reports mentioning the factor)

Especially the connection to wind, since pronunciations of wind chill in ordinary connected speech lack a [d].

The term. NOAD supplies not a brief definition, but a short technical essay on the term:

noun windchill (also windchill factor or chill factor): a quantity expressing the effective lowering of the air temperature caused by the wind, especially as affecting the rate of heat loss from an object or human body or as perceived by an exposed person.

Calculations of the windchill factor from the Britannica site:

(#2) Calculation of the windchill factor from temperature and wind speed, plus information about frostbite danger

Ruthie is 6 years old, and can be expected only to know that windchill is about coldness; she might or might not make the connection to the noun chill related to chilly (an adjective she probably is familiar with), but she’s surely not prepared to deal with something like #2. And since what she hears is something like wínchìll, she has no reason to think that wind is somehow involved.

That’s wínchìll with [čɪl], which can be homophonous with the name Winchell — whose second syllable varies in pronunciation from [čɪl] to [čǝl] to [čḷ] (with syllabic [l]), depending on speaker and context. And while Ruthie has only a glancing acquaintance with windchills, she is clearly a great fan of Winchell’s, the donut people.

Winchell’s Donut Shops. At this point, this morning, I was baffled by the donut reference, because to the best of my memory I’d never hear of Winchell’s donuts before. But yes, they’re a thing. From Wikipedia:

Winchell’s Donuts House is an international doughnut company and coffeehouse chain founded by Verne Winchell on October 8, 1948, in Temple City, California [in Los Angeles County, northeast of downown LA, in the San Gabriel Valley]. Currently, there are over 170 stores in 6 western states, as well as Guam, Saipan, and Saudi Arabia. … It is headquartered in the City of Industry, California [also in the San Gabriel Valley].

The chain’s slogan is “Home of the Warm ‘n Fresh Donut,” and it claims to be the West Coast’s largest doughnut chain. It also offers its customers a 14-doughnut dozen, as opposed to the standard baker’s dozen of 13.

It’s mostly a California thing, and mostly a SoCal thing. A typical store:

(#3) The Winchell’s in Garden Grove CA (in northern Orange County, adjacent to Anaheim and Santa Ana and very close to southern Los Angeles)

And a selection of the donuts available there:


Hard times. Since the OBH strip first appeared, in 2003, the Winchell’s chain has been contracting considerably, with shops closed, taken over by other fast-food chains, or by other donut shops, and the company as a whole has passed to other ownership.

It appears that at the moment the closest Winchell’s to me are at three locations in Salinas CA, well south of here (though still in NorCal). There once was one in Redwood City (on El Camino Real), one in San Francisco (at Kearney St and Columbus Ave), and one in San Jose (in the Hacienda Gardens Shopping Center), but they are no more.

So Winchell’s was a fairly local thing even back then. I suspect there were no Winchell’s close to me when I lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, or Ohio, so the OBH strip would have required a little research for me to appreciate it fully. When I got to California, there was one just a few miles away from me, but I was unaware of it. But then I’m not a big donut person, except sometimes on Fasnacht Day (which was two days ago, but I let it pass without donuts or pancakes, settling instead for a fine overstuffed beef brisket sandwich, with potato chips on the side; one makes do).

2 Responses to “Ruthie goes for the donuts”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Well, that would explain why I have never heard of Winchell’s donut shops. When I hear the name “Winchell” I think of the columnist Walter Winchell, not directly but by a rather idiosyncratic path that includes his contemporary Walter Lippmann: In Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, set in a not-too-distant future (from that time), certain types of newspaper columnist are known as “winchells” and “lippmanns”, the latter being considered a slightly higher register than the former (as was apparently the case for their namesakes) . I am just old enough to have heard of these guys, without having had much occasion to read either of them.

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