LADYFINGERS AND NUN'S TUMMIES: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names by Martha Barnette

LADYFINGERS AND NUN'S TUMMIES: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names

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A contributing editor to Allure and the author of A Garden of Words (not reviewed), Barnette uses her background in classical languages to inform and delight the reader by tracing the whimsical manner in which food names found their way to our lexical pantries. While there is an index, the book is decidedly arranged for browsing rather than reference. The chapters are topical, so that we first encounter the etymologies of ""Foods Named for What They Look Like."" For example, we learn that the phrase ""a head of cabbage"" is a redundancy, since cabbage is an Old French term for ""head"" and a cognate of ""chief"" (head), kerchief (head covering), and even mischief. Not surprisingly, we learn that ""baguette"" means ""little stick,"" but it is more unsettling to find that ""calzone"" is a trouser leg and that ""coriander"" is linked to bedbugs. Who would imagine that papaya was named for a (Spanish) lightbulb? A subsection here exclusively involves ""Foods That Look Like Parts of the Body,"" with examples ranging from the prosaic black-eyed pea to the more titillating St. Agatha's nipples and the peter pepper. Food names associated with religion and the supernatural take us beyond the nun's tummies of the title and the anticipated angel- and devil's-food cakes. Cappuccino was invented by the Capuchin order of monks. Another chapter focuses on names that evolved through the typical accidents of mispronounced foreign terms, and thus a crayfish isn't a fish, spareribs aren't spare, and Bombay duck isn't even a fowl. Many of the foods here are obscure, but this delicious etymological feast will satiate anyone who enjoys the taste of words.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Times