Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Pretty Salad

Posted by Neal on May 30, 2015

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Sofra Salad, by snowpea&bokchoi, Creative Commons

“All right,” I said. “So was there anything else you wanted to ask about?”

Jenna, a student from the semantics class I was teaching, had come in with some questions about lambda calculus, and we had spent about half an hour doing some practice derivations.

She smiled as she packed up her notebook. “No, pretty salad!”

That was a new one on me. It reminded me of the expression Cool beans!, which I first heard in the late 1980s. Was this what kids were saying now? Awesome beans were out, and good-looking salad was in? This required further investigation.

“Oh, is that an expression where you’re from?”

Jenna hesitated.

“You know, pretty salad. Is that like cool beans?”

“Uh, no,” Jenna said. “I just meant, I think I’ve got it pretty salad.”

Suddenly I realized. “Wait! You’re from Rochester, right?”

“Syracuse.”

“Still, that’s prime Northern Cities Shift territory!”

She hadn’t heard of it. “You mean you haven’t heard of the biggest shift in English vowel pronunciation since the Great Vowel Shift of Elizabethan times?”

Nope. So I gave her the relevant highlight: the vowel in socks sounds like the vowel in sax. In her case, working backwards, what I thought was salad was actually solid. And in fact, she did have it pretty solid; she ended up with an A in the course.

Finally, it seems that “pretty salad” really is a thing. I’m not sure I get the joke in this piece of sketch comedy I found, but pretty salad is a big part of it.

3 Responses to “Pretty Salad”

  1. EP said

    And “da haben wir den Salat,” as the Germans like to say = there we have the salad, this meaning “what did I tell you!” or “now we have the mess!”

  2. Chris said

    I think it’s interesting how a simple difference in pronunciation can be made so hard to identify when written out. Reading a conversation strips it of all potential dialects until they are pointed out even though when actually having a conversation every part of their speech is effected by that accent.

  3. Amanda said

    I lived in Buffalo for seven years and this story brought me back instantly! Thank you!

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