Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Shire Books, 2010
I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.
Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.
So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.
Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.
Go casual one minute. Go glamorous the next. Oh, OK. But…which one of these is supposed to be casual? And…err…which one is supposed to be glamorous? I see a lot of hundred-pound curl skyscrapers. And reinforced-with-steel mini flips. And something that you might wear if you’re playing the title role in the suburban-dinner-theater version of I Dream Of Jeannie.
I suppose this was the height (so to speak) of fashion in 1966. I was four years old, what do I know about it? I had pigtails and bangs.
Pick the look you’d like to have and a David & David hairpiece will create it for you. Really? I had no idea a hairpiece could do all that. Maybe it could run out and get me a few things at the store, too.
[From Life, May 20, 1966.]
Wiglomeration is a word made up by Charles Dickens in Bleak House. It means legal fussing and complications that end up in a huge intricate mess – which made me think of these wigs. “How mankind ever came to be afflicted with Wiglomeration, or for whose sins these young people ever fell in a pit of it, I don’t know…”
Today is the birthday of American writer Herman Melville (1819-81), who is most famous for the novel Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick (1851) is one of those classics that hardly anyone reads, as you know. I haven’t read it, though I’m not sure how I weaseled out of that, because I took a great many English classes from high school through grad school. And I did have to read Tristram Shandy (1759, by Laurence Sterne), which was such a terrible experience that – well, let’s skip lightly over it and get back to Melville. People who knew me back in 1986 got to hear a lot about how much I hated Tristram Shandy and all his boring little friends. Which in itself was doubtless intensely boring.
Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) is really good though. It is a very modern short story, a case study of depression and loneliness in an urban world. Bartleby is a scrivener or clerk, who supposedly once worked for the Dead Letter Office (where undelivered letters ended up at the time). Bartleby is hired by the elderly lawyer who narrates the story.
Bartleby refuses to do any work, merely saying “I prefer not to.” The lawyer is strangely moved and sorry for Bartleby and keeps him on, though Bartleby does nothing. “I prefer not to” is his response to everything. The lawyer moves his office to try and get away from Bartleby, who finally is arrested for refusing to leave the old office. He is taken to prison and eventually dies of starvation.
The phrase “I prefer not to” echoes through the story, which is told without excessive Victorian sentiment.
Here is Bartleby over at Project Gutenberg. If you prefer not to read it, that’s cool, though! I couldn’t resist that.