Have No Fear, Baby Buttlegs Is Here!
Posted by Neal on April 30, 2006
I first had angel food cake when I was three or four years old, and for years pronounced angel food cake the way I had heard it back then. Whoever had introduced me to it had pronounced it as angel FOOD cake, with the primary stress on food, the same intonation pattern you’d have in, say, dormroom KEG party. As a teenager, I became aware that some, perhaps even many, people pronounced angel food cake differently, putting the primary stress on angel, like this: ANGEL food cake.
Finally, one day I’d heard enough tokens of ANGEL food cake that I stopped to think about that pronunciation compared with my own, and I realized that it was my pronunciation that was strange. Angel FOOD cake sounds like it means “foodcake, of the angel variety.” Foodcake? What’s foodcake? In contrast, ANGEL food cake sounds like it means “a kind of cake so delicious that it is like unto the food of the very angels.” (As for why it’s not pronounced ANGEL food CAKE, analogous to chocolate CAKE or blueberry PIE, with stress on the final word, I don’t know.)
Anyway, one day after I’d gotten the whole foodcake issue settled, I was sitting reading the newspaper when my wife came into the room…
Her: I have baby BUTT legs!
Her: Look, I have baby BUTT legs.
Me: What’s a butt leg?
Her: No, I shaved my legs, see? Now they’re like a baby’s butt.
Me: Oh! BABY butt legs!
I felt them. Her story checked out. Why she pronounced it baby BUTT legs instead of BABY butt legs is a mystery, especially since she doesn’t do the “foodcake” pronunciation of angel food cake. But for years after that exchange, my wife made a point of mentioning her “buttlegs” whenever she’d shaved her legs. Sometimes I try to picture what a buttleg really would look like, but without much success. And never mind figuring out what a baby one would look like. Or maybe baby BUTT legs would more likely be a proper name: Baby Buttlegs. Sounds like some kind of a goofball superhero’s name, kind of like Super Diaper Baby.