Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
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Mary Bilyeu

COMMENTARY

You took the words right out of my mouth

There are words in the English language that have fallen out of regular use, such as one of my personal favorites: happify, which means “to make happy.”

There are words that shouldn’t be used, such as delish and foodie, which I’ve ranted about in the past and which, frankly, I don’t even consider to be words. (Yes, I know this makes me sound like a crotchety old fogey. I wear that crown proudly.)

And then there are words that should be a part of our vocabulary but have yet to be coined.

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Kate Welsh wrote about some of these in an essay for the site extracrispy.com, “Breakfast Words That Should Exist But Don't.”

She talks about the encroachment of maple syrup dripping off of pancakes and doing a slow, stealthy seep toward eggs. Shouldn’t there be a single word or simple name for this — maybe “syrup slide” — rather than the long phrase I just typed? Or how about the failed flip of an omelet, which then has the dish getting repurposed as scrambled eggs? This could be called a “scramblet,” I think.

I’d like to suggest other food-related instances, too, which should have descriptive terms of their very own.

In English, we have a variety of words to specify our preference for the doneness of steak: rare, medium, well done, and Trumpian. We need more accurate adjectives for other foods that are cooked to suit a wide range of tastes.

We should have better terms for describing how thoroughly cooked a fried egg’s yolk is, from the gloriously runny for dipping toast, to the just-barely-set mid-point, to “I don’t want my eggs to ooze even one drop” Saharan dryness. Sunny-side up, over easy, and hard-cooked don’t seem to be quite adequate, with lots of room for variation in people’s interpretations. And this doesn’t even account for the consistency of the whites: still slightly damp or set with lacy, caramelized edges? How does one clarify that with a quick, pithy word or phrase?

“How do you want your toast?” invites too much wiggle room, as well. Lightly tanned, burnished, and Neopolitan pizza-style charred describe color, whereas crispy-on-the-outside while still tender like fresh bread on the inside or, on the other end of the spectrum, stiff as a board address texture. Two options — light or dark — simply don’t cover all the permutations.

Then there’s oatmeal. That could range from soupy, milk-soaked oats to stick-to-your-ribs-and-everything-else gluey thickness. One word to rule them all is woefully lacking. Each should have a distinctive name of its own, so that we envision the same breakfast bowl when talking about it. (If talking about it, I should say. The finer points of oatmeal texture are likely not a scintillating factor in most people’s conversations.)

The noteworthy case of having a multitude of words to describe snow comes to mind. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca), the Inuktitut language has perhaps two dozen ways of describing the wintry substance, whether it is falling snow or snow in which one can sink, snow clean enough to melt for water, or snow that is the proper consistency for packing and building. Each distinction is relevant, and so one word is insufficient to cover the breadth of the subject.

And so, we need to expand our food-related language to accommodate greater nuance, I think. We’ll get started on it right after we eat.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at mbilyeu@theblade.com, and follow her at facebook.com/thebladefoodpage, bladefoodpage on Instagram, or @BladeFoodPage on Twitter.

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