Monday, January 31, 2011

Respectfully I Say to Thee

The grocery store was truly cranking out the hits tonight, and the disco hit parade included a song I’d never heard before. Not only was it notable for being new, but it also included lyrics I would never have expected to hear in a pop song: “Respectfully I say to thee / I’m aware that you are cheating.” Which is rather a polite way to call someone out for being a lying bastard, no?


Please note the many kinds of crazy going on in the above video.

Turns out the song is “Upside Down,” by Diana Ross, which I find strange because I was under the impression that Ross was a great singer, yet there’s nothing vocally spectacular about this song. Still, the choice of words — especially the thee, given what’s been on my mind lately — seemed remarkable. Overall, the weirdness of the song reminds me of a far less important pop cultural footnote, but it’s also one that I’m happy to post as often as possible: that time Padma Lakshmi sang.


Here’s to all the awkward songs.

The Phantom of the Apollo

Follow-up to the Nicki Minaj post, before I never, ever mention her again: I really liked the “Bride of Blackenstein” sketch from the Jesse Eisenberg SNL. I’m actually cool with everyone in this bit, even Minaj, who initially stumbled, but only after Eisenberg stepped on Jay Pharaoh’s line so I’ll blame him. Video below, and highlights at the bottom.


- “Is that why you had me fill those two basketballs with Jell-O?”
- “From a cashier at Walgreens.”
- “From now on, I’m your friend. And I barely even like you.”
- “I’ve just been with Jewish girls.” / “Oh, then you kinda understand.”
- “That was the whole movie.”

Making Faces With Nicki Minaj

After watching this week’s Saturday Night Live, I’m agreeing with those who say Nicki Minaj isn’t the greatest rapper in the world and who rank her as the least of the Rainbow Hair Brigade, the current batch of popsters who look like they were dreamed up by a seven-year-old rolling on Fun Dip and going to town with a pad of paper and a full spectrum of highlighters. (The brigade also includes Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry. Ke$ha is the hobgoblinish associate from the wrong side of the tracks that they let tag along just so they can rip on her.) However, Minaj has a certain presence, and I think I’ve come up with a way for her to showcase her strengths: a reality show titled Making Faces With Nicki Minaj, in which she just reacts to various surprising or astonishing things. Week to week, she’d visit zoos, watch daredevil acts, trek through haunted houses, ride roller coasters, attend stand-up comedy shows, eat grapefruit, set off fireworks and so forth. The viewer would see none of this. Instead, the camera would just focus on Minaj’s reactions, and that would be enough.

Evidence of Minaj’s true talents:


And in a perfect word, her sidekick would be Carla from Top Chef. Evidence:


And no, it’s not a racial thing. I think of both women first as being wonderfully Muppet-like. Them being African-American is a distant second, if even that.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The End of Crocodile Dundee Did Not Come as a Result of Australian Wildlife

The Crocodile Dundee saga has a rather tragic epilogue, and it’s wholly unrelated to the box office receipts of the third movie. While mentioning the character immediately brings to mind Paul Hogan, the actor who portrayed the fictional character on screen, few realize that the outback-enduring, walkabout-taking, chazwazza-taming 80s hero had a real-life inspiration: Rodney Ansell. As Wikipedia explains, he survived a trip up the FItzmaurice River in 1977 and subsequent two-month trek through the rugged Northern Territory terrain after his fishing boat sunk near the mouth of the Victoria River. Once he returned to civilization, Ansell became a national hero. Media attention surrounding his ordeal inspired Hogan and writers to compose the script for the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee. But while Dundee ended up marrying citified New York reporter Sue Charlton and Hogan ended up marrying the actress who portrayed her, Linda Kozlowski, Ansell fell on far rougher times, ultimately “attacking” a home near Darwin (whatever that means) and ambushing the responding officers. He killed one, but the slain officer’s partner fatally shot Answell.


And that’s what became of the man who, kinda-sorta in a movie, taught America to laugh at how confusing bidets are.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Is Between You and Me

Today, the word of the week is a handy, French term that I first encountered on the blog A Walk in the Words, which I found when one of its featured the word longicorn and cited my blog as the source. A reciprocal move seemed appropriate, and this word fit the spirit of polite give-and-take.
tutoyer (too-twa-YAY) — verb: to address familiarly
If you’re at all familiar with Romance languages, you could have guessed that this was a verb. Its components, however, are the French pronouns tu, “thou,” and toi, “thee” — that is, the informal forms of the you in the nominative and accusative cases. So, literally, this word means something like “thou-thee-ing somebody.” But given that English no longer uses thou except in old phrases (such as holier-than-thou) and instances in which formality is needed (such as Star Wars’s “What is thy bidding, my master?”), I’m not sure that explanation gets the point across. So try this: Tutoyer is the “Hey, buddy” of verbs, the “All right, listen, lady” you’d use when it seems inappropriate to say, “If you don’t mind the intrusion, madam.”

Since I’m on the subject of you and thou, I’ll point out that the transition away from separate, singular and plural second-person pronouns is interesting, at least to me. It was French influence that flattened these terms into just one, all-around usage. French has polite and impolite pronouns, tu for your drinking buddy but vous for, like, your boss or the king or God. As a result, tu and its related forms can sound rude or even condescending. This rule got mapped onto English, and you became a safer bet than thou. It’s ironic, then, that thou today has an air of formality, history, ceremony and nobility. Personally, I think English would benefit from an accepted plural, second-person pronoun, since you can be confusing as a result of this lack. And y’all elicits weird reactions when you don’t have a Southern accent. If only youse guys would catch on.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Well, Doctor, It Kind of Looked Like Chocolate

I have no control what kind of food comes into my office. That much must be said. Also, I don’t eat most of it, because any relief from hunger would be offset by the sensation of garbage food liquefying in my stomach, then solidifying, then causing digestive distress for days.

Ahem.

However, I have to admit that I have a sick fascination with these horrible food things that I haven’t been around since my freshman year. Some are even new to me. And they regularly fascinate me in their awfulness. Here’s the current champion:


Yes, Special K’s Chocolatey Drizzle. Chocolatey Drizzle. Not Chocolate Drizzle, which would make sense, but instead a spattering of chocolate-like or perhaps chocolate-looking goo. Personally, I don’t think a food-like product should share a name with a polite descriptor for a symptom of food poisoning. But even more than that, I’m bothered by the use of chocolatey over chocolate because I wonder if it’s not chocolate at all. Instead, it’s a chocolate-like substance that Kellog’s can’t legally market as chocolate but can as being chocolatey. You know, in the way that a purple SweeTart is grapey or a Slim Jim is meaty. Finally, I want to express concern that people should not be eating anything that they could conceivably expel from their body in more or less the same form. (Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and chocolatey drizzle to chocolatey drizzle.)

Look for it on the shitty food aisle!

Fringe Event in My Office Parking Lot

My weirdness for the week: Olivia Dunham works in my office complex.


Parking placard for Peter Bishop — which, yes, does exist — will be photographed as soon as I can do so without looking creepy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Everybody Party Party

In the Glenda Goodwin post, I mentioned having to find an image of Mena Suvari dressed as and rapping as Aaron Carter. You know, for work. Here it is, for the world to enjoy.


Best Mena Suvari role ever. Seriously. Everyone remembers her for American Beauty. I remember her for this. (Read the sketch here.)

Each Shirt Comes With Unique Pattern of Stripper Blood!

I don’t know what I did to make this Google ad show up, but I’m honestly sorry.


It’s even more distressing imagining what kind of people would want to be more Charlie Sheen-like.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Whole List of Stuff That’s Gonna Freak You Out

On Saturday, November 9, 2002, I stayed in, despite it being the autumn of my third year of college and despite Isla Vista parties abounding around me. Two roommates and I drank beer and watched a Nia Vardolos-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live. Second from last in the queue of sketches in this glorious, Tina Fey-era episode was one titled “Glenda Goodwin, Attorney at Law.” I loved it, but I’d wouldn’t watch it again until tonight.

As near as I could tell, neither Comedy Central nor E! reruns of SNL ever bothered with the Nia Vardolos episode, possibly because network execs had since realized that the success of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding was a fluke and that people didn’t care for Vardolos. Perhaps they objected as well to the musical guest, Eve. I’ll never know. But I can say that videos of this sketch have been impossible to come by, possibly because every other person on the planet didn’t enjoy it as much as my twenty-year-old self did. I had given up. However, today, I had to sign up for Hulu Plus for work purposes — oddly enough, to get a decent screengrab of a 2001 episode of SNL in which Mena Suvari appears as Aaron Carter and raps about helping wash his grandmother’s hair — and I realized after work that this had finally given me access to this much-sought-after (by me) sketch. I rewatched it, for the second time ever and for the first time sober. I still enjoyed it, though not as much as I thought I would. So I got drunk and rewatched it. I still just enjoyed it, and though I plan to continue drinking until it’s hilarious — I’m blacked out as I type this, BTW — I figured the least I could do would be to reproduce it for people who read this blog and the surprisingly many people who stumble onto it looking for Glenda Goodwin. I’m not sure how to steal Hulu’s magic and reproduce the video itself, so I felt the best I could do would be screengrabs and a synopsis, which, yes, would hammer Maya Rudolph’s comic timing into plain text but at least would get the point across. So here, then, in the best way I can imagine, is “Glenda Goodwin, Attorney at Law.”


[Dated clip of two cars crashing]


Have you been injured in an auto accident? Fallen and hurt your back? How about burnt you hand on a fryer?


Sure, personal injuries are serious business. But who’s going to represent you when you have personal injuries of a more unusual nature, like being attack by werewolves? Or what about pirates? Hi, I’m Glenda Goodwin, attorney at law. Have you or a loved one been injured in some freaky situation that you are scared to tell other attorneys about?


Well, now you don’t have to worry about it. Because I am here to represent you in all personal injury claims, no matter how scary. Like…






>You think I’m foolin’? Well, why don’t y’all listen to this?


Testimonial: I rear-ended a pick-up trick, and was going to have to pay thousands of dollars in damages. Then i talked to Glenda Goodwin, and she convinced me that an invisible robot took control of the wheel and forced me to hit the truck. And then the invisible robot forced me to flee the scene. I know it sounds crazy to sue an invisible robot, but Glenda Goodwin convinced me she could get me a settlement of over $6,000.


Case pending!


Thanks, Joan Petriccelli. But the horror doesn’t stop there. You heard about that guy who was stealing construction equipment? Turns out a mummy put a hex on him and told him to do it. And I will do my stuff and get him his money from that mummy and the U.S. government.


Case pending!

I also got a whole list of stuff that’s gonna freak you out. You can come to me if you’ve been bothered by any of the following, such as:


Cyborgs


Tyrannosaurus Rexes


Alien dudes


Count Draculas


Sleestaks


The boogeyman


Outlaws


Hunchbacks


Sea monkeys


Minotaurs [pronounced “MY-no-taurs”]


Lou Ferrigno


Portraits with moving eyeballs


Gremlins


And Forny Numbskruls [Unsure of transcription here. Anyone?]

Man, I almost broke into a sweat just looking at those things. But don’t take my word for it. I got a whole bunch of people that want to talk. Just listen to this:


I was using a ladies’ room at Target, but there was no sign to indicate that they had just mopped the floor. I was coming out of the stall, and slipped on a [Dubbed over in Glenda Goodwin’s voice: Thunderwolf]. Luckily, [Dubbed: Glenda Goodwin] got a settlement of over $50,000. Thanks, [Dubbed: Glenda Goodwin].


Hey, no problem. No case is too big, too weird or too small. Call me, Glenda Goodwin: I’ll believe ya. And I may be able to get you some money, too. [An ape in a space helmet charges into frame.]


Aaahhh! I’ll sue you!


[fin]

That’s it. Didn’t enjoy it? Go have a few and try again. Glenda showed up in three subsequent sketches that I know of: one in the Kate Winslet-hosted episode about Halloween costumes and another in which she hosted a community forum talk show alongside her “stone cold lesbian” friend Renata (Rachel Dratch). Easily her most famous appearance happened long after Maya Rudolph left SNL, in the Will Ferrell-hosted season finale that aired in May 2009. Maya randomly showed up at a funeral and sang about sasquatch. (And she did so to much applause, considering the obscurity of the original sketch.)


The important thing to take away about Glenda Goodwin is this: She is the single recurring SNL character who most believes in sasquatch.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blocks, Blocks, Blocks, Blocks

Hey, remember Tetris?


It’s, um, the Russian one with the blocks. And it’s relevant today, says me.
tetromino (tet-RAH-mi-noh) — noun: a plane or solid figure constructed by joining together four identical polygons edge-toedge
Though I can remember Nintendo Power back in the day referring to the Tetris blocks as tetrads, the term used by non-video game dorks (though still by dorks, because come on) is apparently tetrominos, and not because Tetris blocks fall from the sky and tetromino happens to sound like something parachuters would yell. The term comes from the combination of the root tetra, meaning “four,” and domino. But in inventing this word, someone made an interesting assumption, whether consciously or not.

Like tetrominos, dominoes are shapes constructed by joining identical polygons — just two of them instead of four.


And it would seem that someone decided to treat -omino as if it meant something on its own, and the initial “d” like it was a contraction of di-, a word that can mean “two.” That’s not the case; domino comes from the Latin word dominus, “lord” or “master,” either because whoever wins gets to claim that title or because the black titles used in the game resembled the domino, a black garment word by certain officials in the eighteenth century. However, domino got reinterpreted and -omino took on meaning on its own. (In that way, it’s a lot like helicopter, which breaks into word parts a lot differently than most people would guess.) Now we have triominos (which have three squares) to dodecominos (which have twelve squares) onto infinitominos (which I just made up, but which theoretically exist). We even have n-ominos to represent every size of polyomino in between. And yes, there’s even a monomino, which is fun to say but is basically just a square and is therefore the most boring of the lot.

So there you go: The next time you’re trying to clear a four-liner and you get a worthless two-by-two when you needed a one-by-four, curse your lousy luck with tetrominos, not tetrads. Or, you know, you could do something more creative with them.


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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Geese Can Be Troublesome

What could be better than walking into a restaurant and seeing something new on the menu? Well, I guess that thing being not poisonous and actually also good-tasting, but still — there’s something in novelty. As of tonight, I’m stoked on the menu at Animal. Even though it changes daily, the current sample seems promising: from interesting riffs on the familiar (flatiron steak with sunchoke hash and truffle parmesan fondue) to unusual (rabbit legs, potato puree, mustard, bacon, green beans and chanterelles) to “I’m ordering this so the table next to me thinks I’m cool” (pig ear, chili, lime, fried egg). But then I got stuck on this one: grilled octopus, chorizo and chowchow. Chowchow? Really? I know the protein is usually listed first in any dish description, but maybe the good chefs at trying to downplay the presence of dog in their menu?

No, of course not. I’m just a rube. Though the initial search for “chowchow” didn’t do much to put my suspicious to rest, a search for “chowchow food” made it better. Depending on where you’re eating, chowchow can refer to a North American pickle relish made from some combination of green tomatoes, cabbage, chayote and other vegetables, but it can also be a Chinese preserve of fruits, peels and ginger. The former can also be called piccalilli. The latter does not have an alternate name, but I really wish it did, just so it didn’t reinforce those connections between Chinese food and dog meat — the meat of a Chinese dog, no less — that I’m not supposed to think about and certainly don’t want to think about when I’m ordering.

But now we know.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

With Hair Like a Japanese Horror Movie

I know it’s wrong to map human emotions onto animals, but if I were to do so, there’s a lot I could read on this dog’s expression.


Also, it looks like a Dr. Seuss character, so bonus points for that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Capote Has Two Redheads

I stayed up late last night to finish reading Answered Prayers, Truman Capote’s last book. Of course, one could argue that’s it’s not a book, either on grounds of it being more of a collection of scathing, scandalizing stories about the real-life twats Capote associated with (until the book was published, anyway) or because he died before the book could be completed and its parts assembled into into the masterful tell-almost-all that could have ruined even more lives. Regardless, I read and enjoyed. The victims are quite nearly all dead now, I’d bet, and I didn’t have the weight of their grief dragging at my heels as I sped through all 180 pages.

It’s actually notable that I began reading the book so soon after the new year. We spent part of New Year’s Eve watching the film Murder By Death — a fantastic, Neil Simon-penned murder mystery parody that predates the Clue movie by nine years — and this film happens to star Capote, who at this point in his life had devolved into a waddling, quacking boiled egg. But the film also stars Estelle Winwood, who appears in Answered Prayers not under a pseudonym. She gets off rather easily. She’s only portrayed as a drunk who shows up late (and drunk) to a dinner party alongside Dorothy Parker and Talulah Bankhead (also drunks). This sort of folding of reality upon pop culture upon reality is representative of how one experiences Answered Prayers.

It’s a strange read, not only as a result of the personal, hurtful subject matter but also because the book was written over a period of nearly twenty years. Parts are missing. There are redundancies. And the whole time I was reading this fractured, cobbled-together collection of words, I wondered how much of it existed in its current form because Capote planned it to be so and how much was simply because Capote stopped and started writing so many times, likely forgetting which socialite he’d already tossed a thin veiled over and then shit on. For example, the character of the Black Duchess (a.k.a. Perla Apfeldorf) is introduced in the “Kate McCloud” chapter. As Capote’s seeming stand-in P.B. Jones notes in that chapter, Perla is “the wife of a very racist South African platinum tycoon… as much a figure of the wordily milieu as Kate McCloud. She was Brazilian, and privately — though this was something I discovered later — her friends called her the Black Duchess, suggesting she was not of the pure Portuguese descent she claimed, but a child of Rio’s favelos, born with quite a bit of the tarbrush which, if true, was rather a joke on the Hiterlerian Herr Apfeldorf.” A memorable introduction. However, strangely, in the subsequent chapter, “La Cote Basque,” the same character is reintroduced, in a similar but briefer manner, as if it may occur earlier in time than the “Kate McCloud” chapter or if the “Kate McCloud” chapter may not exist at all.

Most writings on Answered Prayers attempt to provide the brass instrument with which you can decode the various characters, but I’m not interested in them so much. In fact, these characters having real-life analogues distracted me for much of the reading, since I kept jumping online to find out who so-and-so might have actually been. I eventually stopped this, and I ended up enjoying the book a whole lot more just as story and writing and adeptly crafted insults that I can’t wait to steal and use against the failures I have encountered in my life.

As far as looking at the book from a non-roman à clef perspective, I’m fascinated by a doubling even stranger that the repeated introductions of Perla Apfeldorf. It’s the Ann Woodward analogues. In the 1940s, Ann Crowell married into high society, despite objections and suspicious of those around her husband. After a 1955 party for Wallis Windsor (mentioned in the Answered Prayers as “The White Duchess”), Mr. and Mrs. Woodward returned home, whereupon the Mrs. fatally shot the Mr. Despite initial appearances that she murdered him, the shooting was declared an accident.

The story seems to appear twice in Answered Prayers. The first (and most obvious) instance occurs in “La Cote Basque,” in which J.B. Jones observes Ann Hopkins, whom he is quickly told had murdered her husband in cold blood to prevent him from divorcing her and depriving her and her children of his fortune. She is a redhead dressed in black. Everyone in the restaurant regards her with scorn. She meets and eats with a Catholic priest in what seems to be interpreted as a public confession. Mrs. Hopkins’s story is explained much in the manner that Ann Woodward’s might have: Dancer meets rich boy, tricks him into marrying him, then kills him when he threatens divorce. The Ann Hopkins character was so obvious, in fact, that Ann Woodward committed suicide allegedly because she feared what Capote wrote about her.

However, Ann Hopkins is a relatively minor character in Answered Prayers The dominant character, aside from J.B. Jones, is Kate McCloud, another redhead — a amber-haired goddess, in fact — who elicits not scorn but admiration and awe wherever she goes. The oddest part about Kate McCloud, however, is that her story mirrors those of Ann Hopkins (and Ann Woodward) in many ways. Kate McCloud, as both Jones and the reader learns, was born poor, married her way into wealth and ended up trapped in a desperate situation. McCloud’s husband loves her too much, to the point of obsession, and eventually her mother-in-law helps her escape because Kate remaining under her husband’s watch would surely result in her death. (This stands as a twisted parallel of the Hopkins/Woodward story, in which the mother-in-law declined to press charges in order to protect her family’s dignity.) Upon her husband’s incarceration in a sanitarium, McCloud divorces and marries again, only to end up shunned by her second husband and forced to live a leisurely nomadic life. She cannot divorce him, and she fears that he will one day murder her to eliminate the possibility that she will one day stand against him.

For so many reasons, Kate McCloud works like a “good” version of Ann Hopkins. Both have read hair. Both marry into wealth. Both escape from troubled marriages, with the aid of their husband’s mother. Both suffer a certain moneyed homelessness. But whereas Hopkins is roundly vilified, Kate is celebrated and justified. It’s worth mentioning that Jones — again, Capote’s stand-in — sees McCloud as an object of lust and fascination, even imagining that he one day becomes her lover. (And that image, given my impression of Truman Capote as being a sort of gay toad, is rather jarring.) So what gives?

Despite the fact that Capote wrote Answered Prayers over such a long period, I have to imagine that he intended the parallels, despite that I’d imagine he thinks fairly little of Ann Woodward. So why, then, would he re-create her as bad and good versions, a positive and negative David Lynch-esque pair — or, to use a more current metaphor, as a White Swan and a Black Swan? All I can come up with is that the veneration of Kate McCloud in light of the vilification of Ann Hopkins resulted from Capote’s desire to cover his own ass. On some level, he knew the impact Answered Prayers might have and therefore attempted to preemptively restrain the assault against Ann Woodward by invented a “good” version of her that might provide the woman some solace. “See? You’re not a complete monster, deserving nothing more than death by your own hand.” A noble gesture (albeit alongside a deathly mean-spirited one) that did little good in the end. I can think of no other reason why Capote would create these characters in the way he did, save drunken brainmelt and sheer coincidence.

For what it’s worth, both Woodward and Capote were worm food by the time the book was finally published in 1987. Somehow, that makes it better.

For good and for bad, he certainly had a way with words.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Usurper!

It has happened again.

Peter Brady on the Go

First, we were in too much of a hurry for yogurt. Now it has come to this:


Not going to knock the packaging: It made the product as appealing as anyone could have hoped for. However, even mod-retro graphics won’t stop me from running out the door, frantic for a quick energy boos and oh-so-thankful for my GoGo Squeez AppleApple, and then consequently, accidentally splurging a load of applesauce into my eye because I was in that much of a hurry.

Words Fail Me / Words Fail Crustaceans

Last year, I ate a less-than-exalted crustacean, the langostino, for the first time. That night, I thought I should write about it on grounds that this cheap source of lobster-like meat linguistically interesting. But in trying and failing a few times to state what I thought was so interesting, I realized that the topic was hard to put into words — appropriately, since this animal stand out as a good example of how sometimes language sometimes just can’t accurately describe a given thing. Finally, months later, I produced this.

a langostino (he’s doin’ the sit-’n’-reach)

Here’s the deal: Among Americans, the more elegant term for this edible shellfish may be langostino, but the common name is squat lobster, which sounds like a sadder, pudgier version of the B-52s song. The distinction between these two names is more important than you might expect. In 2006, a lawsuit was filed against the Rubio’s Mexican seafood chain — where I ate my langostino taco, I should point out — over whether it can legally market this kind of shellfish as lobster. Biologically speaking, this tasty but controversial little guy is literally neither here nor there, since the term squat lobster can refer to three different families of sea bugs, none of them being lobsters at all. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they’re all more closely related to the kinds of crabs people don’t usually eat — hermit crabs and porcelain crabs — than the ones we do.

The judge ultimately made no ruling in the Rubio’s suit, but it’s apparent that English lacks the words needed to refer to this thing in a way that everyone finds both accurate and appealing. As far as names go, lobster isn’t right. So what’s left? Squat as a noun can mean literally “nothing” or at least “a worthless thing.” It’s a tough name to be assigned, even for an unassuming, bottom-feeding crustacean.

This got me thinking: Why the hell do we English-speakers use the word squat to refer to the stuff we’d rather not have? It comes from the Old English squatten and goes back to a form of the Latin verb cogere, “to force together” or “to compress” or “to compel” or other similar meanings. For a number of reasons, my reaction to this etymology is “Oh, like feces,” since this particular substance is usually unwanted, it is compressed (at several points along its journey), and depending if you’re camping or not, you may actually have to physically squat to finally rid yourself of it. So, I guess for a creature whose name amounts to “shit lobster,” the langostino didn’t taste half bad, though the fecal connotations might have made me subconsciously lower my expectations. But at least it makes sense that we call it langostino then, right?

Unfortunately, the term langostino still sucks, inexplicably marine-y thought it may sound. Its meaning is far from universal. From Wikipedia:
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration allows langostino as a market name for three species in the family Galatheidae: Cervimunida johni, Munida gregaria, and Pleuroncodes monodon. In Spain, it means some species of prawns. In Cuba and other Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, the name langostino is also used to refer to crayfish. In South America, the name langostino is used to refer to red shrimp, Pleoticus muelleri.
According to Webster, langostino comes to English from Spanish, where it is a diminutive of langosta, the “spiny lobster,” which are also not technically lobsters and which are known to various English-speaking people as rock lobsters or, confusingly, langoustes. To complicate matters more, Southern Hemisphere English-speakers refer to spiny lobsters as crawfish or crayfish, even though Americans use these terms to refer to yet more varieties of crustaceans, and that’s only when they’re not calling them crawdads. Langosta and langoustine both come from the Latin locusta, which meant “lobster” as the term is strictly understood today, but could also be used to refer to any lobster-shaped animal… including the locust, which someone at some point thought looked enough like a lobster that it should be lumped in the same category.

If that all weren’t confusing enough, yet another species exists with a similar name: the langoustine. Also known as scampi, Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn (even though it’s not a prawn), this creature, Nephrops norvegicus, actually is a true lobster, though you’d hardly be able to tell for sure if you were ordering it off a menu. Honestly, the fisherman, the cook and the waiter might not know for sure, given the similarity of langostino, langouste and langoustine.

Why should anyone bother to discern one from the other? They taste different, depending on where they’re caught and what they’ve eaten, and I suppose some might consider one more prestigious than another, even though each is just a subtly different version of the same basic sea bug model. (When I think about the qualities that insects and crustaceans share, it actually seems less strange that locusts would be mashed into this verbal bouillabaisse.) However, I say good luck to you, Mr. or Mrs. Seafood Connoisseur: I just wrote those preceding two paragraphs, and I’ve already forgotten which word refers to which sea bug. And Neptune help you if you’re trying to order a specific variety of crustacean off a menu printed in a different language, because even a linguistically educated guess could steer you wrong. I mean, would you be able to guess the langostino from the langoustine on a menu at a Portuguese seafood shack?

This verbal chaos makes a lot of sense, however, when you consider the subject at hand. To most people, ocean floor-dwelling creatures are little understood and rarely considered, at least until the end up on a dinner plate. And if there would be any one cuisine that would most easily fall victim to a complicated, overlapping and often erroneous set of names, it would be the one that, back in the day, would have been experienced by sea-faring people moving from one port to another, speaking all manner of languages and trying to explain their meal in whatever terms were most familiar to them. (“It look like lobster, no? I call it lobster.” Head nods, revealing a smear of delicious seafood grease catching the light.) And, again, it should only pose serious problems to picky eaters and diehard food journalists who want to be sure, beyond the shadow of a squat lobster, what they’re eating.

To me, the classification doesn’t matter. I would gladly eat another langostino — in taco form or whatever other shape it chooses to crawl to me from the filthy ocean ocean depths. However, I wanted to point out an instance when words truly do fail us. In discussing these wonderful, edible animals, it would be very difficult to know for sure what you’re eating, especially if the person speaking with you didn’t realize the complexity of the matter. (But you know now! Kinda! Enough to be suspicious, anyway!) And despite how much I love language and words and all that, I’m endlessly fascinated how these constructions can sometimes utterly fail to do their job.

As for the sea-edibles themselves, I just eat them all with lemon and they taste pretty great.

Food and words, previously:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where Is Drew, Anyway?

Linkedin is nosy — about me, specifically, and perhaps more so than other social networks. Per a friend’s email:


I’d like to think that this would be hilarious if I had been, like, missing for some time and the graphic stirred up a lot of emotions in any friends who also found it in their inboxes.

As Was the Style at the Time

If you’re like me, you woke up thinking, “Gosh, today would go a whole lot more smoothly if I saw a photo of Edith Wharton carrying two small dogs on her shoulders.”


I do what I can.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Word for a Holiday Weekend

No post on Sunday and nothing today until it’s practically over. This word made the most sense.
perendiate (puh-REN-dih-nayt) — verb: 1. to put off until the day after tomorrow. 2. to stay at college for an extended time.
It’s like professional procrastination, for when ignoring work for just twenty-four hours doesn’t quite demonstrate the extent of your laziness. According to A Word a Day, perendiate comes from the Latin perendinare, meaning the same, and that word goes back to the Latin perendie, “the day after tomorrow.” In case you’re wondering, procrastinate came to English in a similar manner: from the Latin cras, meaning “tomorrow.”

Of course, the extension of the word to refer to people on the Super Senior or Super Duper Senior plans is just awesome.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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