Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vagaries of English (and the English)

I remember sitting across from colleague and Facebook friend Scott Clarke at lunch a couple of years ago. His consulting gig was winding down, and our two teams went out to grab a nice lunch, reminisce over some hard-fought victories, and lick the wounds suffered in other, less glorious defeats. With another Brit at the table, somehow the conversation got turned to the renowned, er, “gourmet” culinary delicacies of England – bangers and mash, spotted dick, blood pudding, etc. From those highlights, we then detoured into the dark space of various internal organs, to which I expressed my eternal loathing. Scott looked at me with a grin, an eyebrow askew, and said, “Don’t care for the sweetbreads, huh?”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, now! “Sweetbreads?” WTF? No, I don’t care for the sweetbreads, but to each his own. What I really object to is its name.

What genius came up with the idea of referring to the thymus glands of veal, lamb, and pork as sweetbreads? Look, I’m no scientist here, but this I know – there’s nothing neither sweet nor bread-like about sweetbreads. Where I grew up, sweetbreads were something like banana bread or pumpkin bread. You know, loaf-like things that had enough sugar in them to be somewhat sweet. Getting sweeter, a Danish could be a sweetbread, along with perhaps the ultimate sweetbread, the common donut. Heck, taken from a source none other than that great philanthropic humanitarian, philosopher, and all around Palace hottie, Marie Antoinette, cake is a sweetbread. Who’s going to argue with Marie Antoinette? The mere fact the champagne glass was modeled after her bosom makes her opinion irreproachable. [On an aside, I’m hoping that bit of folklore refers to the champagne coupe glass, not champagne flute glass. Of course, after four kids … nah, couldn’t be – no way she was a breast feeder(er?). She was Queen, for crying out loud!]

Whatever. Back on point, it would really help this father of two squeamish kids (and, truth be told, me too) if we just named our foods what they really were. Of course, if it’s a foreign language, I’ll expect a word I don’t understand – after all, those foreign languages seem to have a different word for everything. It’s the English we’ve got to get a hold on. Pig’s feet are pig’s feet, damn it – no sense putting the figurative lipstick on the pig. It’s just so much easier that way, and will go a long way to preventing the disasters waiting to happen with such tasty sounding, yet not exactly descriptive, dishes like lamb fries, Rocky Mountain oysters, and prairie oysters.

At least that’s this guy’s opinion.

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