Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Pepper Rally

Posted by Neal on August 14, 2004

Semantic Compositions’ (Compositions’s?) remarks on British and American English with regard to pasta and sauce remind me of some recent troubles I’ve had ordering Italian food in Ohio English. I’ve written before about central Ohio dialectal variation with respect to items of food, including the use of the term green pepper to refer not to any old pepper that is green, but specifically to what I call a bell pepper, and have heard others call a sweet pepper (pictured here, just to make sure we’re on the same page). To top it off, I said, the term was applied not just to green bell peppers, but to red, yellow, or other colors of bell pepper. I know that it applies to other colors because I’ve ordered pizza with “green peppers” in a local pizza joint, and gotten a pizza with plenty of red bell pepper on it, and not a single strip of green.

That’s confusing, but not so bad once you get used to it: In central Ohio, green pepper = bell pepper. But as it turns out, there’s another layer of variation within this usage of green pepper that is confusing even when you’re aware of it. Consider the conversation I had when I took Doug to his favorite restaurant, a pizza chain whose name I’ll omit, but whose initials are CPK, and which uses only the red and yellow varieties of bell pepper:

Server: And what can I get for you?
Neal: I’d like the pepperoni pizza, and I’d also like to have some green peppers on it.
Server: I’m sorry, we don’t have any green peppers.
Neal: You don’t? But… OK, do you have any red or yellow peppers?
Server: Oh, yes! We can put some of those on for you.

Evidently, for some speakers, green pepper refers to any color of bell pepper, but for others, like this server, it refers only to green bell peppers. If you want red or yellow ones, you have to ask for red or yellow ones. And if you don’t care what color you get, there’s apparently no simple way to express that.

The next time Doug and I were at a CPK, I tried to go back to the nice, convenient cover term of bell pepper, and was misunderstood the same way I was during my first week in Ohio:

Neal: I’d like the pepperoni pizza, and I’d also like to have some bell peppers on it.
Server: With what on it? Banana peppers?
Neal: No, uh, bell peppers. Well, you know, green peppers.
Server: Oh, we don’t have green peppers.

So now I have to say, “green peppers, whatever color you happen to have them in, red, yellow, whatever.”

3 Responses to “Pepper Rally”

  1. Anonymous said

    Funny, CPK’s my favorite too.

    If it didn’t happen twice, I would have guessed that somebody was jerking your chain. The only peppercorns to be found at CPK are the black variety, and unless these people are all totally lacking in world knowledge (which can’t be ruled out, alas), they should know that bell peppers are the peppers most likely to come on their pizzas, and that they come in multiple colors.

    Cheers,
    SC

  2. Anonymous said

    Neil,

    Why can’t you name the Pizza place? What does CPK stand for? Tell me, damn it! If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Crazed Pizzaman Killers. I’m one of them. Now, wouldn’t it be better to name names and keep the paranoid and deranged from speculating?

    The Boston Pizza and Bell Pepper Strangler.

  3. Anonymous said

    And in Hungary, “paprika” refers not only to the spice but to any general hot pepper. What English speakers call “green pepper” is referred to there as, I think, “tomato pepper” (“green paprika” meaning just an unripe regular pepper). Table pepper (as in “salt and pepper”) is called “black pepper.”

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