Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Food-related’ Category

He’ll Be None the Wiser

Posted by Neal on October 9, 2014

Since I began this blog in 2004, I’ve been vague about where in central Ohio I live, but tonight I’m proud to say that I live in Reynoldsburg, where phenomenal community support for our public school teachers has seen them through a summer of appalling disrespect from the local board of education (except for one notable member) and superintendent, who did everything they could to cause a teacher strike. That strike began on September 19, and might finally be ending today, if a tentative agreement is approved by the teachers.

In other news, Doug and Adam, who have been sick this entire time, might finally be showing signs of recovery. In the mornings, I’ve still been packing a lunch for Adam before I head to work. It’s not that he can’t get himself lunch, but if I don’t make him one, he’ll end up just eating Cheerios for every meal. So a couple of days ago, I opened the bag of bread and pulled out the three slices that were left: two heels and a whatever-you-call-a-slice-that’s-not-a-heel. Dang it, it had happened again!

I remembered a conversation from a month ago, when I had been encouraging Adam to make his own sandwich for a change, and he said he couldn’t, because he’d have to use a heel.

“That’s not a problem,” I told him. “Just do what I do. I put the pieces of bread together, like this, and turn the heel crust-side-in, like this. Then I grab these kitchen shears and cut off the edges of both pieces of bread, like I always do.” (Yes, I cut off the crusts. I don’t have to anymore, because Adam has recently started to eat his sandwiches with the crusts left on.) “Then I spread the peanut butter on the crusty side of the heel, finish making the sandwich, and you’re none the wiser.”

“Oh, I most certainly am the wiser!” Adam said. “Every time you do that, my sandwich tastes funny.”

Almost as interesting as the fact that Adam was, and had been, hip to my trick, was his phrasing I am the wiser. At first I thought he had used a negative polarity item in a positive polarity context, you know, like he did when he was four years old, during another sandwich-related occurrence. But as I thought about it more, I realized that the plus any comparative did happen outside negations and questions, in phrases like all the better and even somewhat the wiser. In any case, you can use NPIs in positive contexts if you’re really emphasizing them, as in Yes, I do give a damn!, and Adam was definitely emphatic. Well, maybe it was because Adam used the wiser without a specifier saying how much the wiser he was: No somewhat, no all, not even very much. But a specifier isn’t necessary, either: I could just as easily have said: You’re never the wiser. So maybe it was the combination of his using the wiser with positive polarity and without a specifier. I don’t know, so that’s one reason I never wrote it up here. Besides, delivering “We Support Reynoldsburg Teachers” yard signs, going to rallies, passing around petitions, writing letters, and picketing the residences of members of the board of education on top of my actual job made it tough to find the time.

Anyway, here I was again, making a sandwich out of a heel. So I put the pieces of bread together, turned the heel crust-side-in, grabbed the kitchen shears and cut off the edges of both pieces of bread, like I used to do. I spread the peanut butter on the crusty side of the heel, sliced the banana on top of it, and laid on the top slice of bread. I put the whole thing in a sandwich container, and stuck a note to the top. The note read, “He’ll be none the wiser.”

When I arrived home that afternoon, Adam had eaten the lunch I’d made. On the table, he’d left my note, with an edit:

Oh, heel naw!

Ha! The linguistic hook of my potential post about the syntax and semantics of none the wiser had just become a post about the homophony of he’ll and heel … or rather, the homophony of he’ll and hill outside of careful speech, and not in a dialect that lowers [i] to [I] before [l] as a matter of course. My guess is that it’s a frequency effect, because he’ll is such a common word. Similarly for we’ll/will and she’ll/shill, but not for Neal/nil.

Posted in Adam, Food-related, Negative polarity items, Ohioana, Syntax | 4 Comments »

Ceramic Tins

Posted by Neal on April 20, 2014

Two ramekins

A couple of years ago, we would sometimes order take-out pizza from Boston’s in the Columbus Arena District. It was very good, but even so, since learning last year that the best pizza in Columbus is Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, and we haven’t been back to Boston’s since. But we still have a few reminders of when Boston’s was our main source for take-out pizza. They would always send along a little container of red pepper flakes with our order, one of those little plastic cups with a snap-on lid, the kind that’s also used for salad dressing or Parmesan cheese. I didn’t really have a good name for this kind of cup until a server at a restaurant referred to one of them as a ramekin. It was slightly bigger, and made of ceramic, but it seemed like the same basic idea. Anyway, I’d keep these ramekins of red pepper flakes. We used them in a few recipes, so it didn’t make sense to throw them away. Now we’re finally on the last one, and then we can go back to using the pepper flakes in the bottle that came from the grocery store.

It was Doug’s turn to make supper one day last week, and he was looking for the ingredients for the dish he’d selected.

“Where are the red pepper flakes?” he asked. “Oh, wait. Here?” he held up the bottle of pepper flakes.

“I usually use the flakes in that plastic ramekin there,” I said.

Doug looked where I was pointing. “Oh, I use the flakes in that ceramic tin for ramen noodles,” Doug said, and continued looking for the remaining ingredients.

An eggcorn, born!

The word ramekin was as unfamiliar to Doug as it had been to me when I first heard it. But whereas I had just accepted it, Doug tried to make sense of it. Hearing [ræməkɪn], he perceived it as /səræmɪk tɪn/. The funny thing about eggcorns and folk etymologies (i.e., eggcorns that become widespread and part of the language) is that they still might not make much sense. They only have to make more sense than no sense. Ramekin is just a string of syllables until you attach them to a referent, but ceramic tin is two common English nouns. Never mind that ceramic tin is a contradiction in terms, and is even sillier when you consider that I was talking about a “plastic ceramic tin.”

Wait a minute … maybe there is such a thing as a ceramic tin, after all…

Posted in Doug, Folk etymology, Food-related, Ohioana | Leave a Comment »

Vegetarian-Fed

Posted by Neal on May 2, 2013

Doug and Adam and I watched Food, Inc. a month or so ago. I learned that the main reason for all these E. coli contamination scares and subsequent beef recalls we keep having is that a lot more E. coli grows in bovine digestive tracts when cows are fed corn instead of grass. If ranchers would just let their cattle feed on grass, one expert said, most of the E. coli problem would solve itself, without a need for all the prophylactic antibiotics that they’re giving the cattle now.

So I asked at my grocery store if any of their beef was grass-fed. None was. But when I was at a different grocery store last weekend, I noticed they had packages of ground beef with green labels. As we know, green labels mean the food is healthier for you, and more environmentally friendly, so I took a closer look. Great news! The label said that this beef had been produced with “no antibiotics ever.” OK, cool. Now how about the grass-fed thing? I kept looking, and saw that the label said “Vegetarian fed.” Excellent! I’d pay 20 cents extra for that! I threw it in the cart.

Then it occurred to me that the only place I’d ever heard of non-vegetarian fed cattle was in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode from 2009. That’s the episode with the “Krusty Burger Squared,” made with the meat of cattle that have been fed with the meat of other cattle. But whether you’re feeding your cattle with corn or with grass, they’re vegetarian-fed. So what difference between this beef and the other beef was the label vegetarian-fed referring to? Maybe they meant that that the feedlot workers who fed these cattle each day were vegetarian. Or that the cows ate vegetarians!

Well, there is one other possibility: vegetarian-fed is the marketers’ way of violating the conversational Maxim of Relevance in order to get me to think their beef is grass-fed, without actually lying and saying it is. The Maxim of Relevance, as regular readers will know from previous posts, is the principle that if I tell you something, it is not something that I think you already know. If I think you already know that all the beef you’re going to find in the grocery store is vegetarian-fed, then I’m not going to tell you that. So if I go ahead and tell you anyway that the beef in this special green packaging is vegetarian-fed, you’re going to assume I’m telling you something you don’t already know about this beef, something that has to do with the way it was fed. If you already know that cattle are by and large corn-fed these days, then that might be all you need to fill in the gaps and conclude that this is grass-fed beef. That’s what happened with me.

But the company is not respecting Relevance, because that vegetarian-fed business really isn’t telling us anything unusual about this beef. Why not respect Relevance and actually say “grass-fed”? Well, that would be a lie. (In terms of Grice’s Conversational Maxims, this would be a violation of the Maxim of Quality: Don’t say stuff you know isn’t true.)

Despite the violation of Relevance, the opposing Maxim of Quantity makes things clear. That’s the principle that says to be as informative as necessary. Grass-fed is more informative than vegetarian-fed, so if it’s true, they should say it. Since they didn’t say it, it’s probably not true. And so it comes to pass that vegetarian-fed, which could theoretically encompass grass-fed, is sometimes understood to be a synonym for corn-fed. In practical terms, I guess it is.

Posted in Advertising, Food-related, Quantity and Relevance | 7 Comments »

Comparatively Well Done!

Posted by Neal on July 15, 2012

Here’s a question for the carnivores out there, in particular the steak-eaters. Suppose you like your steak cooked medium rare. Your father, however, likes his done medium well, and your mother likes hers well done. How would you sum up how your parents like their steak, compared to you?

The most straightforward answer seems like it ought to be My parents like their steak better done than I like mine. We’re modifying the degree of wellness, and the comparative of well is the suppletive form better; hence, better done. But that answer doesn’t sound right when I say it. The only meaning I can get for it is a steak that has been more skillfully prepared. It doesn’t get any hits on COCA, either. It does get a very, very few hits on Google, though, including:

  • Works for my wife who likes her steak better done than the rest of the family.
  • He could have ordered his steak better done.

If better done is excluded, then I guess the answer would be the default, analytic comparative form that you get with adjectives and adverbs that don’t have an -er comparative: My parents like their steak more well done than I like mine. This is definitely a more popular answer. When I searched for “more well done”, I got two hits on COCA, and 179 on Google for “steak more well done”. (That’s an actual 179, by the way. The first page of results said there were 9800 of them, but I paged to the end to get the real number.) Here’s an example from each:

  • If you want it a little more well done, you’re going to leave it on a little bit longer.
  • If you would like the steak more well done, turn the heat down on the pan and continue cooking it for a few more minutes after it has been browned.

However, neither better done nor more well done is what I’ve found myself starting to say more than once. What I’ve wanted to say has been weller done. I’m guessing that since well has a more specialized meaning here than it does in phrases like live well or speak well, or even in the British congratulation Well done!, I’m treating the two as separate but homonymous words. Those who say better done I would say still have how-do-you-want-your-steak well as the same word as the more general-purpose adverb well. Those who say more well done don’t. Instead, they consider well done something like a compound adjective, and use more to make a comparative form the same as they do with compound adjective phrases like more able to meet your needs. As for my weller done, that has something in common with each of the other solutions. Like better done, it takes well as the word to be comparativized, but like more well done, it does not consider this well and the more general-purpose well to be the same word.

One more option I thought of is doner. It seems to me that I’ve probably heard this at least once in my lifetime, but I don’t find any hits for this option, either in COCA or Google.

So I ask you again: How would you express this thought?

UPDATE, July 23, 2012: I forgot until I came across it in my Notes app on my phone that I’ve actually heard weller done in the wild. I was ordering some take-out food, including some baked-to-order cookies. I told the cashier I wanted them cooked well, not doughy in the middle, and she instructed the baker to make them “weller done”.

Posted in Food-related, Morphology, Variation | 13 Comments »

Gluten, Lactose, and Nonconstituent Coordination

Posted by Neal on September 28, 2011

Longtime reader and occasional blogger Blar sent me an unusual coordination, complete with a picture:

The meaning of this phrase is clear enough: The kefir (whatever that is) is gluten-free and for the most part lactose free. (Actually, does 99% lactose free mean that 1% of the kefir consists of lactose, or that 99% of whatever lactose was there has been removed? Either way, I’ll just leave it as “for the most part lactose free”.) But the syntax is so, so bad! It just goes to show that you can’t always factor out the common part of two coordinated phrases and end up with something assume that the resulting coordination will be grammatical. Just because you can replace John sang and Marsha sang with John and Marsha sang doesn’t mean you can replace gluten free and 99% lactose free with gluten and 99% lactose free. But why not?

Let’s take a look at gluten-free and 99% lactose free separately. Gluten is a noun; free is an adjective; and together they form the compound adjective gluten free. The compound adjective lactose free is composed in the same way. In addition, the noun 99% modifies the compound adjective lactose free to create the bigger adjective 99% lactose free. In the diagram, this structure is shown by having lactose and free under one roof, or in syntactic jargon, forming a constituent. 99% lactose free is a larger constituent, all contained under the bigger roof.


99% lactose, however, is not a constituent. So maybe gluten and 99% lactose don’t coordinate well because 99% lactose isn’t a constituent.

Unfortunately, that alone won’t explain the ungrammaticality, because nonconstituent coordination (NCC) happens a lot, in phrases like I sent the package by UPS and the tax return via the postal service. The package by UPS is not a constituent, and neither is the tax return via the postal service. NCC tends to flow more smoothly when the coordinated pieces have similar structures (i.e. when they’re “parallel”), as in this example, with both coordinates consisting of a noun phrase naming a thing sent and a prepositional phrase naming the deliverer. Gluten and 99% lactose, in contrast, are not parallel in this way.

So what happens if we make them parallel? How about:

100% gluten and 99% lactose free

Nope, still no good for me. How is it for you?

Posted in Food-related, Zeugmatic | 16 Comments »

Srimp and Jritos at the Groshery Store

Posted by Neal on September 15, 2011

In my second post on the pronunciation of “tr” as [ʧr] (i.e. as “chr”), my question was this: If the /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ (that is, the “ch” and “j” sounds) are phonemes in English, then why don’t English speakers think of words like trick and drape as chrick and jrape? (At least, why don’t the English speakers who pronounce them that way think of them as chrick and jrape? Some speakers do pronounce /tr/ and /dr/ as [tʰr] and [dr].) To put it in phonological terms, why would someone who didn’t know the alphabet perceive [ʧrIk] as /trIk/ and not /ʧrIk/? Or [ʤreip] as /dreip/ and not /ʤreip/? In fact, children who are just learning to spell sometimes do spell [ʧr] as , and [ʤr] as . However, English speakers eventually come around to perceiving [ʧr] and [ʤr] as /tr/ and /dr/. One reason is that as they learn the spelling system, they see that that’s how [ʧr] and [ʤr] are spelled. Another reason is that if English allowed the affricates /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ to form consonant clusters with /r/, we’d have a strange phonological system on our hands. In it, all the plosive consonants other than /t/ and /d/ could form clusters with /r/, while /t/ and /d/ for mysterious reasons could not. Meanwhile, we have /ʧ/ and /ʤ/, which do not normally form consonant clusters, able for some reason to form them with just the consonant /r/.

With that in mind, consider the consonant cluster [ʃr], in words like shrimp, shriek, shred, shroud, shrew, and shrike. I hadn’t given it much thought before, but comments from Herb Stahlke in some of the posts linked to this one have got me to thinking about it. Like the affricate /ʧ/, the sibilant /ʃ/ forms clusters only with one consonant: /r/. You do get [ʃt] if it’s followed by an /r/, as I discussed in a recent post, but speakers generally perceive that as /str/. And you don’t get words like shkop, shtame, or shpoonkle (oh, wait…). German or Yiddish borrowings like schlep, Schwinn, Schmidt, and schnitzel are acceptable, but you don’t find many new words created that begin with /ʃl/, /ʃw/, /ʃm/, or /ʃn/. On the other hand, the sibilant /s/ can form a cluster with several other consonants. It can form them with voiceless plosives: spit, stick, sky. It can form them with nasals: smack, snoot. It can form them with glides: swoop, and in some dialects, words like suit. (See this post on Dialect Blog for more on American English “yod-dropping”.) It can form them with liquids: slide and … Oops. It can form clusters with lateral liquids, i.e. /l/. It can’t form them with retroflex liquids, i.e. /r/. How many of you pronounce the Sri in Sri Lanka as [sri], and not [ʃri]? I try to, but it feels weird.

So by the same phonological reasoning that leads us to perceive [ʧr] and [ʤr] as /tr/ and /dr/, why don’t we perceive [ʃr] as /sr/? In other words, why don’t we have a system in which /s/ can form clusters with both kinds of lateral liquids, and note that before /r/, /s/ is realized as [ʃ], instead of having a mysterious gap where /sr/ should be? Well, in this case, the spelling points toward hearing it the way it actually sounds: Words like shrimp, shriek, shred, shroud, shrew, and shrike are actually spelled with . But if it weren’t for the spelling, how would speakers perceive it? (Stahlke observes that some Southern American English speakers actually do say “srimp”, but what about other words beginning with “shr”?)

There is at least one word where speakers may perceive something pronounced as [ʃ] as an /s/. Listen to this classic Sesame Street video:


Did you hear it? “Ten tiny turtles on the telephone, talking to the groshery men”? That’s how I heard it as a kid, but gradually wrote it off to my imagination, as I grew up in a family that pronounced it gro[s]ery. Years later, though, I learned that many speakers unquestionably do pronounce grocery with [ʃ]. On her blog, Jan Freeman wrote:

But ever since I started reading similar criticisms of my native Ohio speech oddities, I’ve been wary of ascribing motives to people’s pronunciations. I grew up with “mirror” pronounced MERE and grocery as GROSHERY. But my parents didn’t use those pronunciations because they were uneducated; they used them because everyone did.

As I wrote this post, I realized that I had an explanation for this pronunciation: If you elide the unstressed schwa in the middle syllable, you’re left with an /s/ right next to an /r/. (Linguists call such a deletion syncope.) Looking at it that way, I see that gro[ʃ]ry is no more unusual than C’lumbus, Ohio, or Web’los. But if you keep the unstressed syllable, then both gro[ʃ]ry and C’lumbus may strike you as a bit odd.

Now Freeman may or may not have recognized that her pronunciation of grocery contained a [ʃ] (feel free to chime in, Jan), but here’s a speaker for whom [ʃ] is just how you pronounce /s/ before an /r/. A commenter going by the handle embolini9 responded to a query on seriouseats.com, “How do you pronounce ‘grocery’?” , writing, “I’m from New England, and I’ve never heard the ‘sh’ sound. I’ve always said ‘gross-ree.'” But a few comments later, embolini9 returned to write, “Oh wait! I just said it out loud, and I guess sometimes I do say ‘groh-shree.’ Maybe more often than not… yup, I definitely say ‘sh.’ Now I’m the crazy girl sitting at her desk saying ‘grocery’ to herself.” (The rest of the comments are fun,too, ranging over a lot of regional pronunciations, an dsurprisingly little peeving.)

This case of syncope feeding a phonetic alteration brings me back to the posts on “shtr” and “chr/jr” that got me onto this subject. I was listening to the Sept. 7, 2011 “Radium Girls” episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, and one of the hosts pretty consistently pronounced str as [ʃtr]. There were one or two occasions when she didn’t, but one of the words that got a [ʃtr] was history. She pronounced the word historic with an [s], but history with a [ʃ]. Why? In historic, the middle syllable is stressed, so the /st/ is separated from the /r/ by a vowel. But in history, the host syncopated the unstressed medial vowel, leaving the /st/ right next to the /r/, eligible for the [ʃtr] pronunciation. As for “chr” and “jr”, I remembered way back to when Doug was three or four years old, and his favorite lunch was a turkey sandwich with Doritos. He tended to syncopate that initial unstressed syllable, leaving the /d/ next to the /r/, eligible for the [ʤr] affrication. As a result, he would ask for a turkey sandwich and “Jritos”.

Posted in Consonants, Food-related, The darndest things, Variation | 14 Comments »

Un-Nibbled by Cats

Posted by Neal on August 2, 2011

One day last week, Doug got up at 7:00, in an attempt to be able to fall asleep faster that night. He’d been trying to do it for several days, without success. He would just turn off his alarm without even waking up. I suggested the low-tech solution I’d used in college: Put the alarm clock on the opposite side of the room, so he’d have to get up out of bed to turn it off. And it worked. Now, here he was, up and dressed by 7:30, eating toaster waffles and microwave bacon.

Adam, though, was still asleep at 8:00. I put the remaining two slices of bacon back in the microwave to keep them out of our cats’ reach until Adam could get to them. I had also spooned some yogurt into a bowl, and had a piece of proto-toast in the toaster for him. I wanted Adam’s breakfast to be ready for him when he got up, because I would be running an errand by then. I didn’t want him to just come downstairs and skip breakfast in favor of playing video games.

So where to put the yogurt? Back in the fridge? OK, but the bacon had to stay in the safe. Room-temperature bacon is all right, but not refrigerator-cold bacon. And what about the toast? Darn it, by the time Adam came down, it would probably be stale. All right, I decided. Adam would just have to get up and get his butt downstairs for breakfast before he got dressed or anything else, that was all. I placed all three items on his placemat, and then went up to knock on his door.

“Who is it?” I heard a muffled voice ask.

“It’s me. Hey, I’m going to run an errand. Your breakfast is on the table. You might want to come down and eat it while…

…the toast is still warm, the yogurt’s still cool, and the bacon is still un-nibbled by cats.”

Awright! I was just trying to get my breakfast-making duties out of the way, but in doing it, I had spontaneously created a bracketing paradox!

Here’s the deal. Un-, everyone agrees, is a prefix. It can attach to one adjective to create another adjective. In this case, it’s attaching to the adjective (more specifically, past participle) nibbled to create the adjective un-nibbled, i.e. “not nibbled”. Then the prepositional phrase by cats attaches to that to give us the adjective phrase un-nibbled by cats, as shown in the diagram below:

Going by the morphology

But wait. Can PPs do that? Can they just attach to an adjective to give you an adjective phrase? Sure, if you have the right kind of adjective. Fond forms an AdjP when it attaches to an of-PP; so do great and with child. But un-nibbled isn’t an adjective that takes a PP, any more than, say, green or scary are. Green by cats? Scary by cats? What would those phrases even mean?

The meaning we’re after is, “It is not the case that the bacon is nibbled by cats,” so why not parse the phrase so that nibbled by cats forms a chunk, and then let the un- attach to that? Something like this:

Going by the semantics

Great! Now the negation clearly takes scope over the entire part about being nibbled by cats. But now un- isn’t a word prefix anymore. It might as well be the free-standing word not, the way it’s sitting outside the phrase nibbled by cats. Hence, the bracketing paradox.

Now there is one other parse of un-nibbled by cats, one that isn’t a bracketing paradox. It exists because of a peculiarity of the prefix un-. As Ben Zimmer wrote in a 2009 “On Language” column:

Ever since Old English, the un- prefix has come in two basic flavors. It can be used like the word “not” to negate adjectives (unkind, uncertain, unfair) and the occasional noun (unreason, unrest, unemployment). Or it can attach to a verb to indicate the reversal of an action (unbend, unfasten, unmask).

So if we take un- in its guise as a verb prefix, then we can parse un-nibbled by cats this way:

Taking "un-nibble" as a verb

Unfortunately, a completely different meaning comes with this parse. And not only is it not the meaning I want; it’s a meaning that can’t even happen in this world. Living with five cats, I can tell you that they never un-nibble anything!

Posted in Cats, Food-related, Gerunds and participles, Morphology | 6 Comments »

Fried Eggs in Bacon Grease

Posted by Neal on November 23, 2010

Adam and I went on his Cub Scout pack’s annual fall campout last weekend. For our Saturday and Sunday breakfasts I packed bacon and eggs in our cooler. But as I assembled our camp stove on Saturday morning, I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten to pack any butter (OK, margarine).

“Shoot!” I said to myself. “Now what am I going to fry the eggs in?”

Then it hit me: I could fry the eggs in the bacon grease! The way eggs were meant to be fried in the first place! We’ve been using the convenient microwave packets of bacon for so many years that I’ve gotten used to never having any bacon grease to fry eggs in, and using margarine instead. But this weekend, on this campout, with no microwaves in sight, I’d fry our bacon the old-fashioned way, and have fried eggs the way Dad used to make them.

As I fried the eggs, I thought about the phrase frying eggs in bacon grease. I was thinking about it because frying eggs in bacon grease reminded me of a quotation from Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Entertainment Weekly a number of years ago, where she said she liked eating “fried eggs in bacon grease”. Now that, to me, sounded disgusting. Eggs that had been fried in some substance — maybe bacon grease, maybe butter, maybe oil — now sitting in a bowl, in a matrix of gray, congealed bacon grease.

Why does frying eggs in bacon grease set my mouth to watering, while a similar phrase with the same verb, same noun, and same prepositional phrase — in the same order — has me curling my lip in revulsion?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Food-related, Gerunds and participles, Semantics, Syntax | 8 Comments »

More Lemon, Please

Posted by Neal on August 1, 2010

“Can I get you a refill on your iced tea?”

“Yes, please,” I answer. “And some more lemon, too.”

That’s right, more lemon. I like my iced tea with one or two wedges of lemon in it, depending on the size of the glass. I don’t get pre-sweetened tea, because it’s always too sweet. I don’t put in sugar, either. Want to know why? Because it doesn’t dissolve worth a damn! You get tea that’s not sweet at all at the top of the glass, and tea that’s too sweet at the bottom, with a white sludge that all of your stirring couldn’t keep from precipitating out. The same goes for sugar substitutes: Equal, Splenda, Sugar Twin. The only thing I’ve found that dissolves evenly through the tea is Sweet N Low. When I get the mix just right, it’s great. In fact, I’m having some right now.

But eventually, the glass is empty and it’s time for a refill. Usually the server will bring you another lemon with the tea if they’ve taken away the whole glass to refill it, or they’ve brought you a new one. But you still have to ask, because you never know when they’ll bring the glass back with no fresh lemon, and what then? You just cannot get the right mix of tea, sweetener, and lemon juice when you’re trying to use the same, sorry, squeezed-out lemon wedge that you used before. You have to be especially vigilant if you’re at a fancier place, where there are people whose job it is to come around and refill glasses of water and iced tea. A momentary lapse of attention there, and the balance is thrown off before you’ve drunk even half the glass, and you’ll have to spend the next ten minutes looking for someone to flag down for more lemon. Or worse, actually drink enough of the tea for someone to come by and top it off again.

So my server returns, with a fresh glass of iced tea, with more lemon. Yes! But wait: This time, instead of one lemon wedge straddling the rim of the glass, there are two, maybe even three. That’s great, but why, when one would have done?

Maybe it’s so they won’t have to bring more lemon for the next refill. But often, when I get my second refill, they’ll bring another two or three wedges with it, so that explanation can’t always be true.

Well, I asked for more lemon, and (unlike merely one wedge) two or three wedges of lemon are more than one wedge.

But on the other hand, if the server brings just one lemon wedge, I will still have more lemon than I did have, right? What gives?

At times I’ve thought it had to do with the vagueness of sentences with more when you don’t express them fully. For example, the sentence The server brought more lemon could mean, among other things, that they brought more lemon than lime, or more lemon than the restaurant manager brought, or more lemon than they brought the first time. It’s probably that last meaning that has servers bringing me two or three lemons when they brought me only one with the first glass.

But that still leaves the meaning I actually have in mind when I ask for more lemon. What kind of sentence would carry across that meaning? Bring me more lemon than I have now? No, that doesn’t work. That still seems to call for the server to bring at least two lemon wedges if I have one already.

I think that we actually have an ambiguity in the word more. There’s the one meaning, where the amount of lemon wedges that the server brings has to be greater than the size of some other contextually determined set (like the amount of lemon wedges the server brought the first time).

And then there’s the meaning I have in mind. For that one, what you’re considering isn’t the amount of lemon wedges the server brings when they refill your glass. It seems to me that what you’re considering is the amount of lemon wedges the server brought this time and last time put together, and that amount has to be greater than just the amount of lemons your server brought you the first time. As long as none of the amounts are zero, that’s an easy requirement to satisfy.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ways of asking for “more lemon”: some more lemon? additional lemon? extra lemon? Nothing works consistently.

Well, except for one thing. These days, when a server asks for our drink orders, my wife will jump in and ask, “Could you bring us a little bowl of lemon wedges with the drinks?” Now is that cheating, or what?

Posted in Food-related, Semantics | 12 Comments »

Reach For It

Posted by Neal on March 24, 2010

A few years ago, I wondered if eating something healthy (healthful, if you insist) wasn’t enough; you had to enjoy it, too. After all, the brochure said

To lower your risk of cancer, enjoy 3 to 5 servings of fruit per day.

Well, I guess the answer is no. Look at the advice offered in these messages:

  • Craving candy? Reach for fruit instead (link)
  • When anxiety strikes, reach for homeopathic remedies. (link)
  • In Sugar Blues author William Dufty has a chapter titled Reach For A Lucky Instead Of A Sweet, where he seeks to demonstrate that sugar is far more dangerous than tobacco. (link)
  • 10 Healthy Snack Choices You Should Reach For Every Week (link)
  • Currently most teen girls are getting far less than the recommended 700 milligrams of calcium per day. So, reach for foods rich in calcium now. (link)
  • Reach for the chocolate – it’s healthy (link)
  • When to Reach for a Sports Drink (link)
  • Reach for the foods that don’t come with a long nutrition label, such as broccoli, spinach, apples, brown rice, whole wheat flour, fresh fish, nuts, or beans. (link)

You don’t need to enjoy it. You don’t even need to eat it. All you need to do is reach. If it’s right in front of you, just move back a few steps, and then reach. You have to watch out, though. Look at these:

  • Not only are our minds preoccupied with the stressor at hand, but our bodies are telling us they desperately need support, so we reach for foods that provide quick energy. (link)
  • Emotional eaters also tend to reach for foods that are high in fat, sugars and calories instead. (link)
  • Reach for a banana, not Doritos. (Doug remembers reading something like this in a Weekly Reader article on nutrition.)

Just as merely reaching for the right things does you good, merely reaching for the wrong kind of stuff can do you harm.

Posted in Advertising, Food-related, Quantity and Relevance | 4 Comments »

 
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