Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Menu, From a Language Perspective

Being someone who thinks about the English language a lot, I often think of associative terminology. In my topic about Thanksgiving Day food, I'm putting a twist on it and injecting some flavor into the discussion, language-wise. Turkey is at the top of the food list. For vegetarians and vegans, skip reading "turkey", or discontinue reading this article. Other items are (from the top of my head) potatoes, sweet potatoes (sometimes interchangeably called yams), cranberry sauce, dressing (aka stuffing), gravy, and pumpkin pie. What about veggies? They'll roll onto the scene. I'll bypass food discussion pertaining to all-day football, as that could be an entire subject by itself.

Turkey: Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national symbol rather than the eagle. Google results indicate Franklin was displeased with the choice of the eagle, but not entirely clear that he lobbied for the turkey. More recently, in the previous century anyway, turkey has become an unflattering term. "Jive turkey!" was a derisive insult often uttered by George Jefferson of The Jeffersons TV show. Turkey has been a term used to label a bad movie; even better, Golden Turkey Awards go to both movies and directors. Cold turkey as a term does not refer to the temperature of the bird. One other Turkey is the country, which always makes me go "hmmm" when I think of it in conjunction with another country that makes me think of food—Greece.

Potatoes: We have Mr. Potato Head, couch potato, hot potato, .... Regarding edible potatoes, there seem to be lots of ways to prepare them, serve them, and buy them already prepared—baked, mashed, twice-cooked, scalloped, fried, liquified or nearly liquified into soups, chunked into salads, etc.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams: This subtopic required googling for "sweet potatoes vs yams". And wow, what a load of results! Here's one link that has descriptions for each— Sounds like yams are not as common as sweet potatoes in my neck of the woods. Oh, well, as Popeye might say, "I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam that I yam!" Maybe Popeye doesn't handle hot potatoes, sweet or not. Anyway, let's move to a sweeter topic—Swee'Pea, his adopted baby. That brings us to ...

Sweet Pea(s): Peas—those Crayola-green spheroids. Oh, if they're canned peas, they have that odd olive-green color about them. Sweet Pea does seem an odd name for a baby. Nevertheless, Tommy Roe made a hit song in the mid-60s named "Sweet Pea" about a girl. (Well, this looked like a good area as any to shoehorn "sweet peas" as a candidate vegetable for the Thanksgiving Day meal.)

Cranberry Sauce: The first time I saw cranberry sauce, it came out of can. It resembled jelly that you dish out with a knife or spoon. It retained the shape of the can and the utensil characteristic used to serve it up. It didn't pour like a sauce. Even odder, I didn't consider it tasty for such a pretty color. Still don't. Even its liquid relative—cranberry cocktail—isn't that appealing to me.

Dressing and Stuffing: I think these terms are strange names for the same food—flavored and moistened diced bread that contains other items—celery, onions, sage (predominant flavor!), .... Stuffing, as a term, makes sense, particularly when it's actually placed inside the turkey. Dressing, as a term, makes no sense to me. Related, the term "salad dressing" makes sense, as you're dressing a salad. Turkey dressing? I don't see turkey dressing dressing a turkey like I see salad dressing dressing a salad.

Gravy: Good gravy, gravy train, Gravy Train. Good gravy—this expression has nothing to do with good or gravy. It's a polite and not-that-common expression of surprise. The two kinds of gravy trains pertain to implicitness of advantage, the proper-noun expression (dog food) having been named from the lower-case gravy train. Eh, let's leave the Gravy Train at the station and move on to pumpkin pie. (I rethought my initial intent to hyperlink to Gravy Train. Readers are on their own for this googling.)

Pumpkin Pie: These two words can evoke lots of language imagery separately. Pumps have kin? What kin they look like? Lotion pumps? Miniature oil-drilling pumps? OK. There are some etymological roots for pumpkin, but they all sound like slacked pronunciation devolution to me, since the word pump has no kinship with the word pumpkin. As for pie, besides the edible ones, I also think of pi and pie charts.

What's after dessert? How about antacids? Anyway, I hope this article has provided some food for thought. May your Thanksgiving Day be a good one, with plenty to be thankful for.

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