Archive for the ‘Language and culture’ Category

The clown facial

June 18, 2019

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a clown facial:

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From NOAD, the nouning of the Adj facial ‘of or affecting the face’:

noun facial: a beauty treatment for the face.

Then the noun facial ‘facial treatment (for beauty)’ serving as head in the N + N compound clown facial (for a pieing — a pie-in-the-face — involving a clown or clowns), which contrasts in interpretation with the compounds cum facial (for a sexual practice in which semen is ejaculated onto the face) and beauty facial (used to clarify that the ‘facial treatment’ sense is intended).

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The Chinese diner

June 5, 2019

Today’s Zippy takes us to a bit of now-vanished Camden NJ, the Elgin Diner Restaurant, and, next to it, a fantasy Chinese diner, an amalgam of two items of demotic culinary Americana: the classic diner (an Art Deco railcar where people meet to eat plain, familiar food); and the little Chinese (that is, American-Cantonese) restaurant:

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This will take us on the road to Ardmore PA, Wheeling WV, and Idaho Falls ID. For the trip, choose a diner classic — tuna melt, patty melt, club sandwich, meatloaf, macncheese — from column A; and a Chinese-restaurant classic — hot and sour soup, chow mein, garlic eggplant, General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour pork — from column B. And then wok this way.

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Two cents, common sense, incense, and peppermints

March 27, 2019

The 2/26 One Big Happy, riffing on /sɛns/, in idioms with sense (common sense, horse sense, nonsense), in incense, and in cents (also in an idiom, two cents):

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Which, of course, leads us inevitably to the psychedelic days of 1967, with their whiff of incense and peppermints (plus some pot).

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Better than ABC order

February 2, 2019

Once again, Ruthie grapples with ABC order, in the January 6th One Big Happy:

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The larger context: test tasks for kids, and what they’re for. Eventually this will take us to queens.

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19th-century Swiss steak

July 16, 2018

Who put the Swiss in Swiss steak? In my July 13th posting “Swiss steak” I deprecated the popular idea that a verb swiss lies behind this usage and suggested reverting to the simple proposal that Swiss is just the nationality Adj, but that the composite Swiss steak is not predicational — Swiss steak is not Swiss, but American — and is instead relational, entailing only that Swiss steak is related to or associated with Switzerland in some way (perhaps by virtue of the ingredients or techniques involved in its preparation).

But investigating any proposal about the origin of the expression requires assembling much more evidence than I had available to me in my searches on the net: many more, and earlier, examples, with rich information about the cultural context surrounding them.

A notable step in this direction has now been made by Peter Reitan, who has access to large newspaper archives and experience in using these resources. He reported on his initial explorations in a short posting to ADS-L yesterday, a note suggesting that 19th-century occurrences of Swiss steak indicate that the term might have originated along the Ohio River in southern Indiana, in an area where Francophone Swiss settled in the early 19th century.

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Where is Gilroy?

September 5, 2017

Restrain the impulse to reply “Gilroy was here” (I’ll get to that below); the title is an echo of my 7/7/15 posting “Where is Ojai?”, which was about whether the city of Ojai, in Ventura County CA, is in California’s Central Coast region or in in the South Coast region (along with Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties).

Just so for Gilroy, a city in (far southern) Santa Clara county: is it in the Central Coast region, or in the Bay Area region on the northern California coast?

Ojai and the rest of Ventura County are in a cultural liminal zone, between central and south; and Gilroy and neighboring Santa Cruz county are in a cultural liminal zone, between central (with small cities, picturesque open spaces, and extensive rural or semi-rural areas) and Bay Area (mostly dense urban and surburban settlement).

I stumbled onto the Gilroy question through food, specifically through Original California Style Hot Pepper Sauce, made in Gilroy (but encountered on a table at the Peninsula Fountain Grill, here in Palo Alto), whose makers advertise:

Pepper Plant Pepper Sauce was developed by a lover of spicy peppers who wanted to enjoy their unique taste year round. Pepper Plant quickly became a favorite of the California Central Coast.

The Pepper Plant folks seem pretty clear that they’re on the Central Coast (along with Watsonville, Salinas, Monterey, and Carmel) — at the northern tip of the region, granted, but in it.

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Morning: spanakopita

February 23, 2017

Spanakopita was the morning name some weeks ago, and then this morning the bon appétit site offered instructions on how to “make spanakopita pie”, with a yummy photo:

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The full instructions, which are pretty complex, amount to:

make the spinach filling (using frozen spinach), prepare the phyllo pastry (using frozen phyllo), assemble, bake

The result, seen above, is spanakopita:

(in Greek cooking) a phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. ORIGIN modern Greek, literally ‘spinach pie.’ (NOAD2)

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Comic-stripped!

May 20, 2016

Unearthed in my giant pile of books, Arthur Asa Berger’s The Comic-Stripped American: What Dick Tracy, Blondie, Daddy Warbucks, and Charlie Brown Tell us about Ourselves (1973), an early piece of cultural criticism based on the comics:

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(That’s Mutt and Jeff on the cover.)

Berger on p. 1:

this is the first book I know of which deals with the way comics reflect our [American] culture.

If not actually the first, certainly a pioneering book.

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cold cuts

November 12, 2015

Recently I wondered about the story of cold cuts ‘lunch meat’, an Adj + N composite that is not particularly transparent semantically (in fact, lunch meat isn’t fully transparent either). There’s some interesting linguistic history here. But there’s clearly also some substantial cultural history to be uncovered, and for this I don’t have the resources.

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In the Basque diaspora

August 9, 2015

(Warning: much of this posting is about gay porn and male hustling, and it refers in plain language to the male body and to male-male sexual acts; the photographs are not actually X-rated — such images are in a related posting on AZBlogX — but the posting is not for kids, the sexually modest, or the easily offended.)

In a comment on my posting about the Basque language and the Basques in the U.S., someone using the name “Dirty Harri” (it’s a joke, as you’ll see, a play on the title Dirty Harry) picks up a news story about disagreements in 2013 between Aitzol Azurtza, the president of the New York Basque Club, and the visiting Iñigo Urkullu, the president of the Basque Government. During this contretemps, it was revealed (by others) that Azurtza had had a career in gay porn, under the stage name Antton Harri; Azurtza had come out some time before, but it was not generally known in the Basque world (in NYC or elsewhere) that he was a gay pornstar (of some repute), or indeed that he’d worked as a rentboy in NYC. Under the cloud of the porn revelations, Azurtza resigned his Basque Club position “for personal reasons” and not long after moved from New York to Palm Springs CA, where he lives now. A piece of reporting from the time:

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(On the left, Azurtza in business suit. On the right, Harri in his work clothes.

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