Jewish World Review August 29, 2002 / 21 Elul, 5762

Richard Lederer

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Food for thought | My whole life I have been an unrepentant, self-confessed verbivore, and I can already sense the presence of thousands of wordaholic and verbivorous readers out there. Carnivores partake of flesh and meat; piscivores gobble fish; herbivores consume plants and vegetables; verbivores eat words (sometimes their own). My whole life I have feasted on words -- ogled their appetizing shapes, colors, textures; swished them around in my mouth; felt their juices running down my chin.

Now let us verbivores nibble on a spicy, meaty, juicy honey of a topic that we're sure to savor and relish. I'm talking about culinary metaphors that are packed like sardines and sandwiched into our everyday conversations.

For one example, take salt. The ancients knew that salt was essential to a good diet, and centuries before human-made refrigeration, it was the only chemical that could preserve meat. Thus, a portion of the wages paid to Roman soldiers was salt money, with which to buy salt (Latin, sal). This stipend came to be called a salarium, from which we acquire the word salary.

Although you should always take what I say with a grain of salt, I hope that you'll find the following quiz to be worth its salt. All the culinary answers appear below. But try to answer the, yourself first.

1. What's so humble about humble pie?

2. Why, exactly, is something defective or otherwise disappointing described as a lemon?

3. What does being crabby have to do with crabs?

4. What does the grapevine, through which we "heard it," have to do with war?

5. What is the cold shoulder that gets turned on us?

6. Centuries ago, captive gray geese were tied down and, six times a day, force fed a thick paste of sewed maize, buckwheat, and chestnut flour. This process enlarged the bird's liver, already a highly prized ingredient in goose-liver pie. By metaphoric comparison, a person who has had more than enough of food or anything else is said to be ...............

1. In the Middle Ages, umble pies were large pies filled with the less appetizing parts of a deer, such as the hearts, brain, liver, and entrails. The lord of the manor and his family and guests dined on venison in the banquet hall, while the huntsmen and servants ate umble pie in the kitchen.

2. When slot machines came onto the American scene in the early part of this century, a lemon, in combination with any other symbol, always signified that the player lost. It didn't take long for the lemon, a sour-tasting fruit to begin with, to acquire the sense of "defective, disappointing."

3. Except for sound, crabby has nothing to do with the crustacean. Crabby actually refers to the sour crab apple.

4. Grapevine , meaning "news mysteriously conveyed," is a shortening of "grapevine telegraph," a telegraph line between Placerville, California and Virginia City, Nevada constructed during the Civil War. The loose, trailing wires were thought to look like a wild grapevine.

5. The cold shoulder was actually a unheated shoulder of mutton served to unwelcome or no-longer-welcome guests of a household. When you received such a culinary cold shoulder, you were to take the hint and vacate the premises.

6. Fed up.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2002, Richard Lederer