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AWADmail Issue 186

November 12, 2005

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Geert van derMeer (g.a.vandermeerATtpgpost.nl)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--amuse-bouche

It is interesting to note that originally, "amuse-gueule" was the term and not considered as informal or vulgar at all. According to my French Dictionary (Petit Robert, 1993), "amuse-gueule" dates back to 1946, while "amuse-bouche" didn't appear until 1980, defined as a euphemism for "amuse-gueule". My Petit Larousse dictionary of 1968 only mentions the original term.

I was born and educated in France and have lived there until 1972, and I remember being quite "amused" when I first heard the word "amuse-bouche". In my perception, it sounded like a case of hypercorrection.

I now live in the Netherlands, where restaurants usually shorten the term to "amuse" (or "amuses" in plural). Nowadays in France, some restaurants have pushed the idea of keeping you busy by offering something that is not very different from a first course. They call it an "assiette de patience" (literally "patience plate").

From: Thomas Sauzereau (thsauzereauATlaposte.net)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--amuse-bouche

Just a personal, amused remark about the use of amuse-bouche and its more informal twin amuse-gueule. Though I am a native French speaker, I shall of course not prevail myself with any general and normative knowledge of the French language, but several times it has surprised me to hear English-speaking guests (whether in France or abroad) talk of amuse-bouche. For indeed I do not recall ever using it myself nor hearing it used around me, while amuse-gueule frequently comes up in parties and even restaurants.

It is true that gueule is the word for an animal's mouth, and from then on a slightly vulgar way to refer to someone's face and "ta gueule!" is more or less the equivalent of "shut the f up!", potentially just as aggressive. but I doubt that anyone in France would get upset when having one of his dishes referred to as an amuse-gueule (unless that very dish was supposed to be the main course!).

I find this representative of the use of foreign words which works the other way around (English words used in French) as well. In that case an English speaker might enjoy the thought that he or she is using a French, thus possibly more exotic or prestigious word, while he or she is actually just making it a living part of his own language. That's what makes languages so rich and so hard to translate for people like me studying them!

From: Steve Thomas (stypeATsccoast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--amuse-bouche

The discussion of amuse-gueule reminds me of the Southern US fried cornbread appetizer known as "hushpuppies". In my region, at restaurants specializing in seafood (traditionally fried seafood), it is customary for diners to be presented with a basket of these delights immediately upon being seated at the table.

From: Christina Vasilevski (christinavasilevskiATtrentu.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--macedoine

EU has recommended Macedonia for membership. As a Macedonian-Canadian myself, I'm happy to hear the news, and feel that your choice of the word "macedoine" for today is an odd little omen of good luck for the country.

From: Mary Wigle (adamsATa-plus-a-design.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--vinaigrette

A vinaigrette is also a small (usually silver) box with an hinged cover and a second interior drilled cover. These boxes were apt to contain a sponge soaked in vinegar (vinaigre in French). Vinegar fragrances were sniffed by ladies in the 18th and 19th C in case of slight illness or faint (often women whose corsets were tied tightly). These small items are now highly prized collectibles (my mother has some 40-50 of them) and can cost upward of $500.00, depending on provenance. Here's a nice example of the vinaigrette.

From: Heather March (ideasofmarchATgmail.com)
Subject: Chef vocabulary

As a chef, I agree - sometimes there is no way to express what you want without using the classical French vocab (c.f. mirepoix, julienne; neither of which can be explained without using many, many more English words).

But here in New Zealand, about as far as one can get from la belle France, hors d'oeuvres have been replaced with "starters", "pass-arounds", and "amuse bouches", possibly because in Australia, one understands, they are frequently pronounced "horses' doofers" or "horses' doovers".

About 12 years ago, I had Sunday lunch in a small town cafe in France. It was one of those "prix fixe" menus, and for a very small investment the menu read "Hors d'oeuvres, rosbif, fromages, glaces". In the cafe, we thought we had inadvertently joined in someone's wedding festivities. The hors d'oeuvres consisted of a 10-yard long groaning sideboard buffet!

Oh, and bottomless bread and bottomless wine, for which they would not let us pay for our extra jug.

From: Sarah Viaggi (sarah_viaggiATsanjosemed.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--saute

Every time I see this word, I smile as I remember back when I was taking ballet lessons and learned that ballet uses the same French vocabulary. I used to chuckle that I could sauté (jump) while I sauté (make the food bits jump). Keep up the good work and keep smiling!

From: Carolanne Reynolds (ggATwordsmith.org)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 185

* Undecimal:
I mentioned Onzieme as a name for the eleventh child. Another form is Onesime, the name of the father of Quebecois hockey player Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Singer Celine Dion (Quebecois, now in Las Vegas) is the fourteenth child in her family.

* More on [its/it's] for those not uninterested:
Some readers wondered if it should have been "its" in my comments "it's lack of". To clarify, the complete sentence is: "it is lack of love." It could not be [its] because there is no antecedent.

Modern English is the Wal-Mart of languages: convenient, huge, hard to avoid, superficially friendly, and devouring all rivals in its eagerness to expand. -Mark Abley, journalist (1955- )

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