After the first meeting of the “star-crossed lovers” whose fate is writ large in the sky, Juliet ruminates on Romeo’s surname. It’s just a word, she tells herself:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
But would it? Words are loaded heavy with history, embedded in culture, weighed down with baggage. Things are no different in the food world. Recently we have read that ‘faggot’ is clearly not just a word. That wonderful lump of livery offal should be preserved from confusing sexual swear words, and quite frankly if people ate more of them, there may be less need to swear.
If it is true, as recent research reveals, that swearing releases stress and boosts team spirit in moments of need then 1) I feel vindicated for my use of expletives when driving 2) words have a physical impact. I suspect that this physiological/verbal relationship is linked only to memory and habit and that words don’t actually possess an intrinsic emotional value. But if so, then I can’t quite explain my fondness for particular foodie words: who can resist the delights of ‘tiramisu’, a command from the heavens to pull (tirare), me (mi) up (su) or the diminutive delights of a ‘little orange’ or ‘arancino’ – the ultimate in Sicilian fast food. The elisionary beauty of a ‘ku-pov-tee’ or a ‘pee-sov-kake’ is easier to explain: ‘a cup of tea’ or ‘a piece of cake’ have become mantras of comfort in hard times.
The recent small town row over a bakery calling itself ‘Nice Baps’ got me thinking that ‘bap’ is the perfect food word. It links the plumpness of a freshly-baked roll with the female breast in just three letters. A nifty linguistic leap. Berlusconi’s idiosyncratic style of politics is close to the ‘bap’ but closer still to the selling of female wares. His so-called ‘politics alla puttanesca’ are named after that famous hot spaghetti sauce whose origin is in ‘puttana’ (pronounce the ‘p’ as a ‘b’ for the full effect) which translates as ‘whore.’ Try to say the word gently and you can’t: the ‘p’ explodes into the double ‘t’ (where you must pause) before the final hard /k/ sound of ‘-ca’. It is a word loaded with hate and contempt.
Whatever the conclusion, food is emotive, words are emotive and foodie words, well, they may even affect what we choose to eat. Scallops with fish foam anyone? Or scallops with cod espuma? You see what the Spanish word does? Removes the picture of a bath full of Radox that popped into your head. Pollack or colin? The former is apparently just one consonant away from the world of baps and faggots and has been rebranded as the name of the-bloke-next-door, despite the cannibalistic connotations of eating ‘colin’. ‘Pan-fried’ and ‘oven-roasted’ are redundant tautologies on elaborate, but probably shallow, menus. Who knows, maybe ‘fridge-cold’ or ‘hand-served’ are yet to take off as nouveau food terms. Either which way, language is the banquet at which we must all dine and it is to be smiled at, criticised, ridiculed, but most of all, savoured.