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Ladyfingers & Nun's Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names

By Martha Barnette
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Book Details
  • Author: Martha Barnette
  • Edition: 1st ed
In Ladyfingers and Nun's Tummies, Martha Barnette dishes up the answers to questions about the words we put into our mouths every day. In amusing detail, she uncovers the engaging stories behind the names of foods, and how those names reflect our intimate, affectionate relationship with food and drink. "Consider this book a feast of words", Barnette writes, "a deipnosophist's delight, a linguistic banquet". Indeed, this book is an exploration of the nature of language itself, and the uniquely human activity of adapting and adopting names for the things around us. Religion has played a significant role in the names of foods. The twisted biscuit known in English as a pretzel and in German as a Brezel is thought to have been designed by monks as symbols of arms folded in prayer. Many other foods, such as turkey and Jordan almonds, got their names through geographical mix-ups, while others, including lemon sole, rosemary, and refried beans, arose from misunderstandings and mistranslations. Peaches, currants, and Fig Newtons have clues tucked deep inside their names that indicate the countries or cities where they originated. In addition to delving into food name derivations, Barnette reveals how other familiar English words in turn arose from words involving food and drink. Lampoon, for example, derives from the refrain of an old French drinking song, "Lampons!" or "Let's drink!" while symposium comes from a Greek word that means "drinking together". Galaxy comes from the ancient Greeks' word galakitos or "milky" (as in Milky Way), and is a member of the same family of words that gave us lactate and the name of that milky Italian coffee drink latte. Every food has a story to tell, whether its name honors a specific person - as in the case of Cobb salad, graham crackers, and Tootsie Rolls - or whether it arrived in our language only after a longer but even more fascinating journey.