Be careful what you cook

On the subject of cooking, a Facebook friend posted that a recipe in a major newspaper includes preparing dried shiitakes by soaking them in boiling water, draining them, removing their stems and cutting them in half. “After that, presumably, they’re thrown away, because that’s the last we hear of them.”

Someone else commented “Hate it when that happens, gives me the shiitakes”. I commented “But it was good practice doing that much. Next time you cook a recipe with … you’ll know exactly what to do”. Obviously I meant shiitakes, but autocorrect took over and it became:

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vegetarian and non-vegetarian

A local kebab and burger shop is advertising:

Special vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus

The default kebab or burger contains meat. In fact the default main course food, whether at a café, restaurant or home, contains meat, so much so that English doesn’t have a word for food containing meat. A kebab or burger containing meat is hardly “special”, any more than a vegetarian salad is. 

I am also pondering the use of menus in that way. includes the dishes served (at a meal) as its second definition, behind, a list of of the dishes served at a meal, but “vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes” doesn’t quite suit a (mainly takeaway) kebab and burger shop. A dish is not only the container, but the also the food served on/in it. (Also a plate, as in “Bring a plate” to a community gathering and meal.)

Sunday 순대

Before I moved to Korea the first time I read up about the country, people, language and culture,  but somehow missed out on the food 순대 (sun-dae (soon-day, not Sunday)), a sausage made of steamed cow or pig intestine stuffed with some combination of meat, blood, vegetables and rice or noodles.

Within a few weeks, a student told me she’d just eaten soon-day. I should have just asked her to explain, but I thought she meant and was mispronouncing the American English sundae (Sunday, not soon-day), so I wrote it on the board and asked “Is that what you mean?” and she said yes. I said “What flavour?”. She looked puzzled and said “Pig flavour”. Sunday and (English) sundae are (probably) related, but Korean 순대 isn’t.

This evening my wife cooked 순대국 (sundae soup). I said that it isn’t my favourite, and she asked me if I know what 순대 is. I said “Of course, it’s Soonday today”. She looked puzzled. I said “Soonday, Moonday, Tuesday …”. Our niece then had to explain. I doubt if I would understand a corresponding joke in Korean, so I shouldn’t have expected her to understand that. 

Maybe I should call 일요일 simply 요일 because, for me, 일요일에 일 없어요. Bilingually, a lawyer’s favourite day is obviously 수요일 and a pedicurist’s is 토요일. 

Koh Fee Fee

One professionally produced and presented travel video talks about a resort island in Thailand named Koh Fee Fee. My entire travel experience of Thailand amounts to spending one hour in the middle of the night at Bangkok airport, but I know there’s no island named Koh Fee Fee any more than there’s a country named Thighland. Thai has a /f/ sound, but phi is pronounced identically to English pea

English has two relevant phonemes: /b/, which is voiced and unaspirated, and /p/, which unvoiced and unaspirated. But at the start of a syllable, /p/ becomes aspirated – there’s a little puff of air immediately after the sound. Thai has three relevant phonemes: /b/, /p/, which is always unvoiced and unaspirated, and /ph/, which is always unvoiced and aspirated. Thai speakers can make a distinction between pi pi and phi phi (I don’t know if pi pi is actually a word in Thai, but they can say it), but English people can’t. (It’s more complicated than that, but I’ll stop there.)

Calling the island Koh Fee Fee seriously brings into question whether anyone connected with the production of the video has actually ever been there, and whether the information they give comes from their own experience or is copied from someone else.

If you’re lucky, your first thought when you hear /phiphi/ is an Australian clam or a New Zealand mollusc. Mine isn’t. Some years ago, a colleague’s student was showing my colleague and her other students her photos of Koh Phi Phi on a computer in the college’s common room. I heard her ask my colleague “Teacher go pee-pee?”. With admirable restraint, my colleague said “No, I haven’t”. I quietly said “You should see a urologist about that”.

If you’re making travel videos, either professional or amateur, please check pronunciations. At least they weren’t talking about Phuket.

Abbreviation on the menu

Two items on the menu of almost every Australian pub are schnitzel (veal unless otherwise specified, or chicken) and parmigiana (chicken unless otherwise specified, or veal). Partly because of lack of space on signboards, and partly because Australians abbreviate almost everything we can, these are often abbreviated to schnitz, schnitty or schnittie, and parmi, parmie, or parmy. Google reports:
schnitz 337,000 – schnitty 104,000 – schnittie 5,490
parmi 233,000,000 – parmie 166,000 – parmy 1,990,000

The result for parmi are skewed by the fact that it’s the French word for among. In fact, the translation appeared at the top of Google’s search results, before any reference to food.

For plurals, schnitz must become schnitzes, schnitty can become schnitties or schnittys, and schnittie must become schnitties. Parmi can become parmis or parmies, parmie must become parmies and parmy can become parmies or parmys:
schnitzes 4,5000 – schnittys 4,730 – schnitties 5,190
parmis 200,000,000 (again skewed by the French word) – parmies 241,000,000 (I can’t explain this result) – parmys 1,670,000 (there’s something very strange going on here – the results for plural schnit– are much lower than for the corresponding singulars, but the results for plural parm– are way higher. 

We have to take these numbers with a large amount of caution. I was prompted to write this post because I spent a wet weekend sorting through old documents, and found a piece of note paper with numbers from approx 2(?) years ago, which are way different from these. 

Does anyone know? No (partly because both words are borrowed from other languages). Does it matter? No (but I can imagine some people getting pasDo I have a choice? If I had to stick my neck out, I’d go for -ie(s) in both cases, if only because these spellings are more common in Australian abbreviations.

(By the way /ʃn/ is another initial consonant cluster not found in English which English speakers encounter in other languages. We generally have no trouble with it, partly because of familiarity and partly because it is phonetically very similar to /sn/.)

PS some Facebook friends mentioned parma, which I hadn’t included because I’d never heard or seen it. Google’s numbers for that are skewed by the Italian city. Some of the sources I read while preparing this post also have parm, which is just wrong. The first result for parm is parmesan cheese, which I have never heard or seen, either.


Sometimes I find things of linguistic interest in unexpected places. The cafe near my house sells bottles of Burgundee Creaming Soda. That would usually be ‘Burgundy’ (indeed Pages for Mac autocorrected it), but possibly they changed the spelling to avoid getting a strongly-worded letter from the body in charge of geographically-based drink and food names in France. Or maybe they really did originally call it Burgundy Creaming Soda and really did get such a letter. Either way, they could argue/could have argued that burgundy refers to the colour of the liquid, not to any attempt to pass it off as coming from that region of France. (Pages for Mac also changed burgundy to Burgundy.)

But no-one in Australia is going to believe that Bundaberg brand Burgundy Creaming Soda is made in France. Bundaberg is a regional city in Queensland, and the Bundaberg Brewed Drinks Company is well-known for its range of soft drinks. In fact, the city is even better known for its rum, which I have just discovered is made by another company. If you ask for a ‘Bundaberg’ at an Australian pub, you will probably get rum. If you ask for a ‘Bundy’, you will certainly get rum. 

(As an aside, we wouldn’t expect boeuf bourguignon to be made in Burgundy (I ate it in Paris), but there are strict laws about Burgundy wine. Even so, lists ‘often lower-case’ burgundy as ‘any of various red wines with similar characteristics made elsewhere’.)

At the top of the label is the instruction ‘Invert bottle before opening’. And open it upside-down? Please invert and revert (or maybe evert, or maybe even convert) the bottle before you open it. 

Latin vertō, vertere, versus (turn), has given rise to a large number of English words (Wikipedia lists 120). Those in the form prefix + vert are: advert, avert, controvert, convert, divert, evert, extrovert, introvert, invert, obvert, pervert, revert and subvert. Closely related to these are words ending in –verse: adverse, averse, converse, diverse, inverse, multiverse, obverse, perverse, reverse, transverse, traverse and universe. In some of those words, the idea of ‘turn’ is more obvious; in others, less so. Most of the other words on Wikipedia’s list are derivatives of those, though there are some which aren’t (divorce and vertebra, for example). 

herbed bread

A café menu offered:

garlic and herbed bread

I would unhesitatingly say and write herb bread, but herbed bread isn’t wrong. Google Ngrams shows that its used about a fifth to a quarter as much as herb bread. But a general Google search shows that some of those are in larger noun phrases like herbed bread twists and herbed bread pudding.

But herbed bread is awkward. Most adjectives ending in –ed are based on verbs. We can talk about buttered bread, which is bread which has been buttered. What are you doing? I’m buttering the bread. But herb is a noun. Herbed bread is not bread which has been herbed, but bread which has herbs. What are you doing? *I’m herbing the bread. (Butter was a noun first, but is now well and truly also a verb.) 

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Nepali again

A textbook mentioned the difference between a cook (a person) and a cooker (a machine). I mentioned that I wouldn’t naturally say cooker – I’d say stove or oven (and I’m not sure what the difference between those actually is). A Nepalese student said that the Nepali word for cooker is kukara. The first possibility is that this is complete coincidence, the second is that Nepali borrowed the word from English, and the third is that the two words share a Proto-Indo-European root. I later found from Google Translate that the Nepali word for stove is sṭōbha and the word for oven is ōbhana, which makes me suspect that all three words have been borrowed from English. traces cook to PIE *pekw- “to cook, ripen” and oven to *aukw- “cooking pot”, but stove only as far as Old English, with a cognate in Old High German. 

If a language borrowed a word from another language, it means either that the word and/or the person/thing/place it refers to didn’t exist in the culture of that language, or that the borrowed word has supplanted the original one. None of the Nepalese students were able to tell about traditional cooking – maybe all cooking was done over an open fire, maybe they had an oven of some kind. If they had an oven of some kind, then they would have had a name for it. Ovens of different kinds were developed in many different cultures around the world. The first requirement is heat, the second is a way of containing it.

Until my students have more knowledge of traditional Nepali cooking, or of the history of the Nepali language, I will never know. Even I’m at the limit of my knowledge. Wikipedia’s article on Nepalese cuisine doesn’t mention any implements. 

(In fact, records that a cooker can be person employed in certain industrial processes, but at least 99% of the time a person is a cook.)


Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch in a coffee shop/café whose name is rendered


with the O as a stylised coffee bean. My linguistic analysis never completely stops, and I asked the waitress how this is pronounced. She said “Jez-ve”, so that’s not an O after all, but simply a stylised coffee bean. I then asked her what it means, and she said she didn’t know, but she’d ask the manager. If she did, she didn’t return to tell me, so I had to do some research when I got home. (What did people do before the internet?) If you don’t know, can you remotely guess?

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Afraid of what?

A few days ago the chapter of the textbook was about comparative and superlative adjectives, and one question was something like “What are you most afraid of?”. One student said “I am afraid of ” something that sounded like duck or dog. Was she afraid of ducks (the bird) or duck (the meat), or dogs (the animal) or dog (the meat, in some countries, see later)? I might have asked for clarification then, but decided to let her keep talking. She said that when she was young, the toilet was accessed from outside, so she always asked one of her parents to take her. So did they have ducks or dogs in their backyard? I finally said “I don’t know whether you said duck or dog”. She said “No – daakk”. Aha. “Afraid of the dark.” Why do we say “the dark” rather than “dark”. Would Dracula say “I am afraid of light” or “I am afraid of the light”? Google Ngrams shows that afraid of the light is about twice as common as afraid of light. Continue reading