Posted by: Jack Henry | February 14, 2023

Editor’s Corner: Food for Thought

My dear coworker, Ron, sent me a ton of Richard Lederer’s articles for my birthday, along with an adorable dachshund card. This is a “phone it in” day for me, and I am letting Mr. Lederer do all of the heavy lifting. This article was from Thanksgiving, but the terms and stories in here work all year round. I hope you find it interesting and educational. It will certainly help you save money if you throw a dollar in a dish every time one of his puns make you groan.

Click the title to read the full article; I clipped a few paragraphs to save space.

Food for thought: Every day we truly eat our words

Richard Lederer

Both our food and our language are peppered with salt. The ancients knew that salt was essential to a good diet, and centuries before artificial refrigeration, it was the only chemical that could preserve meat. Thus, a portion of the wages paid to Roman soldiers was “salt money,” with which to buy salt, derived from the Latin, sal. This stipend came to be called a salarium, from which we acquire the word salary. A loyal and effective soldier was quite literally worth his salt.

Salt seasons not only the word salary, but also the words salad, salsa, sausage, and salami. You don’t have to take my etymological explanations with a grain of salt. That is, you don’t need to sprinkle salt on my word stories to find them palatable.

If you know where the Big Apple is, why don’t you know where the Minneapolis? — which raises the question “Whence cometh the phrase Big Apple, referring to New York City?”

The first print citation shows up in 1921 in a regular racing column in the New York Morning Telegraph by one John Fitz Gerald, in which he used big apple to refer to the race tracks of New York. By 1924, Fitz Gerald had broadened the phrase to identify the city itself: “The Big Apple, the dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.” The columnist wrote that he had first heard the phrase from two Black stable hands in New Orleans in 1920, for whom the big apple was their name for the New York racetracks — the big time, “the goal of every aspiring jockey and trainer.”

The cakewalk was originally a 19th-century entertainment invented by African Americans in the antebellum South. It was intended to satirize the stiff ballroom promenades of White plantation owners, who favored the rigidly formal dances of European high society. Cakewalking slaves lampooned these stuffy moves by accentuating their high kicks, bows, and imaginary hat doffings, mixing the cartoonish gestures together with traditional African steps. The most elegant and inventive contestants would receive a piece of cake, a prize that became the dance’s familiar name. Doesn’t that just take the cake?

Another member of the cake and pie family is bread. Companion derives from the Latin com, “together,” and panis, “bread.” You and I are companions who together break the bread of language. Breaking bread was an important ritual of welcome and hospitality. Hence, the word company.

I offer a toast to you, my verbivorous readers: “Here’s champagne to our real friends, and real pain to our sham friends!” Thank you for being real friends of our glorious, uproarious, victorious, courageous, outrageous, contagious, stupendous, tremendous, end-over-endous English language!

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

Editor’s Corner Archives:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: