Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Bowls of gumbo

March 12, 2023

In the mail from bon appétit magazine this morning (Daylight Saving Day in the US), this hymn to the gumbo restaurants of New Orleans:

(#1) Artwork for the story, “The 8 Best Bowls of Gumbo in New Orleans: Pretty much everyone in this city has strong opinions about gumbo. Writer and New Orleans native Megan Braden-Perry shares her picks for the eight best versions you can find”, by Braden-Perry on 3/5/23

As it happens, I am a gumboiste, a gumbophile, known in years long ago at academic conferences in New Orleans for indulging in 7 or 8 different gumbos in a single day. As I wrote in my 8/17/22 posting “Knuckle macaroni”, about elbow macaroni, and then “knuckle dumplings”, that is, gnocchi:

for me gnocchi are like gumbo: there are a zillion variants, hugely different in their ingredients and preparations, some of them transcendent, some of them delightfully weird, some of them pedestrian, but all of them good, each in its own way.

So bon appétits celebration of New Orleans gumbos derailed my intended posting for the day.  Now, from Braden-Perry’s main text, plus her notes on two of the eight restaurants, with photos.


Contamination by association

August 13, 2019

(Regularly skirting or confronting sexual matters, so perhaps not to everyone’s taste.)

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro takes us back to the Garden of Eden:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

The bit of formulaic language for this situation is a catchphrase, a slogan with near-proverbial status (YDK, for short):


The leaves are conventionally associated with modesty, through their having been used to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the Garden — a use that then associates the leaves with the genitals, from which the psychological contamination spreads to the entire plant, including the fruits. You don’t know where that fig has been.


Avocado Chronicles: 4 avotoast

July 15, 2019

Although, or perhaps because, I live in one of the world’s avocado toast hot spots, I’d hoped to avoid posting on the silly fad for avotoast, but then this Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon — with its pun on toast — appeared in my comics feed:

(#1) Up off the counter and onto the table

Three things: avocados, toast, and avocado toast.


Word geographies

October 2, 2014

Some good words here about Asya Pereltsvaig’s explorations in word geography, from the etymology section of her Languages of the World site, which has some cool maps. In no particular order (some postings have come by more than once, in different versions):

The Geography of ‘Book’ (link)

The Geography of the “Onion” Vocabulary (link)

What will you have: tea or chai? (link)

Say “Cheese”! (link)

The Geography of “Cucumber” (link)

The ‘cheese’ map:



Annals of identity

August 8, 2013

From several friends on Facebook, links to stories about merman Eric Ducharme, for instance an International Business Times story of 4/4/13 by JR Tungol that begins:

Some people enjoy reading, while some others prefer cooking. But one man’s hobby is impersonating mermaids, or for him, mermen.

Eric Ducharme, 22, of Florida, eats, sleeps and breathes these mystical sea creatures, known for their human torsos and fin lower-halves.

“It’s a lifestyle. It’s a path in life that I have chosen,” said Ducharme, who appeared on Wednesday night’s episode of TLC’s “My Crazy Obsession,” a reality show that follows people with unique — rather odd – fascinations.

and includes the TLC  video about him.


Origin myths

February 24, 2011

From my back files, in a story in the April 19, 2010 New Yorker (“The Memory Kitchen: A chef recovers the foods that Turkey forgot” by Elif Batuman, about Istanbul chef Musa Dağdevireyn):

“Our people are ashamed of themselves,” he remarks, alluding to Turkish chefs’ penchant for Western cuisine. “They have a complex. Go to Iran — you’ll find characteristic Iranian regional cooking. Here you open a book called ‘Modern Turkish Cooking,’ and the first recipe is for risotto.”

The other side of this shame, he continues, is false pride, which recently gave rise to an “Ottomania” fad, with restaurants claiming to serve the dishes of Sultan Suleyman’s court. There are, he says, no surviving recipes from Suleyman’s court: “People just want to think that they’re the descendants of kings.” Musa is particularly outraged by people who claim that their ancestors invented various foods. His latest historical work debunks the origin myth of döner kebab, the rotating roasted meat that forms the cornerstone of Turkish street food: a chef called Iskender is supposed to have invented it in Bursa, in the eighteen-sixties. Once, at a symbosium, Musa met a descendant of Iskender. “He was talking about how his ancestor, who was born in 1948, invented döner kebab,” Musa told me. “He had no sources. He was just going around saying this.” Combing libraries, used bookstores, and flea markets, Musa found döner represented in an 1850 engraving and an 1855 photograph. “I wanted to ask that guy, ‘So your grandpa invented döner when he was two years old?’ “

(The article is pretty much guaranteed to make you feel hungry.) Origin myths abound in the world of food, as they do in the world of word and phrase origins, and in fact amateur scholar Barry Popik has managed to do serious research in the intersection of these two worlds, for instance on the origin of the name hot dog.

It’s easy to tell (and pass on) plausible stories about origins, especially stories that are colorful, full of specific details, and favor people you admire or revere. [Note multiple-level coordination, which I didn’t notice until I was proofreading.] But it can take grinding work to check out these stories, and then many of them, especially the best ones, turn out to be false, as Musa discovered when he investigated the döner story.

Multiple-level coordination

February 22, 2011

A few days ago I started writing up a note about Chinese stereotypes of Westerners, especially Western men, from my experiences teaching at Beijing Language Institute (as it was then) in 1985. The story I told began with this Chinese characterization of Western men:

(1) They are hairy, smelly, and have big noses.

(I once had a wonderful cartoon illustrating the stereotype, but I can’t at the moment locate it) — at which point I realized that (1), which was entirely natural for me, exhibited what many people take to be a failure of parallelism that results in ungrammaticality: the three apparent conjuncts (hairy, smelly, and have big noses) are flagrantly not of the same category. (Not that this is always a disastrous thing; see my posting here.)

Neal Whitman is the great student of this type of coordination, which he calls multiple-level coordination (MLC), because the conjuncts are structurally at different levels: in (1) the first two conjuncts, hairy and smelly, are structurally lower (they are complements of are) than the third conjunct, have big noses, which is structurally at the same level as are.


Chinese lazy susan

February 17, 2011

In the Bay Area section of the NYT on February 11, Bernice Yeung’s “Lost for Years, a Trove of Chinatown Art Is Tracked Down”:

It’s a modern detective story, set in San Francisco’s atmospheric Chinatown.

It took an out-of-the-blue e-mail and some old-fashioned legwork, but Sue Lee of San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America has solved a mystery that had stumped scholars of Chinese-American art for decades: the case of the missing Jake Lee paintings [depicting Chinese-Americans in a variety of activities].

… The paintings [originally displayed in Kan’s Restaurant, founded by Johnny Kan in 1972] are the focal point of Ms. Lee’s exhibit [on the gallery space at the historical society]. But the show is also an homage to Mr. Kan, who is credited with introducing Cantonese fine dining to Americans, and inventing the restaurant-sized lazy susan.


Cultural contamination

February 11, 2011

(Not about language, but culture.)

On KQED’s Forum, hosted by Michael Krasny, on Wednesday: “Anthony Tommasini’s Top 10”, an engaging interview with the New York Times music critic about his personal ranking of the top 10 classical music composers in history (Bach came in first, with Beethoven narrowly edging out Mozart in the next two slots). Then came the callers with their comments — among them a woman who went on at some length about the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth as an intensely moving masterwork.

But then she added that after she read that the “Ode to Joy” was Hitler’s favorite piece of music, the work lost all of its attraction for her.

It had become contaminated by the association with Hitler.


Quotes and footnotes

January 7, 2011

Two volumes of bookish cultural history that I’ve been reading: Willis Goth Regier’s Quotology (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2010), about quotations, and Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), about, obviously, footnotes. Both packed with fascinating detail, though their style and audiences are rather different.