Vocabulary Builder

May 10, 2015

I spent a good hour and a half this morning struggling over a blog for the Oxford University Press website, and now I’m pooped. I don’t even know whether they will take it, so I feel like I’m letting both of my regular readers for the Thornapple blog down. I’m sworn off of my usual insouciance for the Oxford effort, and that (I think) is what made it so exhausting. Of course I can use words like “insouciance” in the Oxford blog, even if I’d be well advised to avoid them here. Oxford is the oldest university in the English speaking world, and their press is the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary—definitive source for English usage. They will be happy when people use the English language to its fullest potential, if anyone will.

However, I’ve been warned that unsuspecting lawyers, city councilmen and the occasional sociology professor find their way over to the Thornapple Blog only to be put off by a word like “ontology” or “catachresis”. There for a while I took to provide links to Dictionary.com. But today I’m persevering.

A pretense of unlettered naiveté to the contrary, I’m sure that both of my regular readers know full well that insouciance is a style of cooking that was originally perfected in Provence during the last three decades of the 18th century. This was a century after the suicide of François Vatel over the late arrival of the fish at his banquet for Louis XIV at Chantilly, but the French were still searching for a mode of preparation that would make the timing of distant ingredients a bit less crucial. It would be another century before the opening of Japan, but recent contacts with the East had made chefs in Nime and Aix-en-Provence aware of the gustatory and preservative properties of the fermented paste from boiled soybeans.

It was not until the 19th century that American naval hero Matthew Perry visited Provence and the Langdoc-Roussillon. Having only recently completed his inaugural voyage to Japan, he was well situated to appreciate the fine flavors of this new mode of food preparation. Perry later made a number of contributions to the English language as a result of his travels. One of them was the word “denim”, which he began to use in reference to any sturdy, cotton twill fabric that reminded him of the textiles he had seen in southern France. He would call them “de Nimes,” (e.g. “of Nimes”). And whenever he would encounter a food that had been allowed to marinate in an inky-brown sauce before being served he would refer to it as “insouciance” (e.g. in soy sauce). Perry’s neologisms (another one the lawyers out there may need to look up) caught on, and there you have it.

Of course you may not care for soy sauce. If that’s the case, you can always maintain that posture of erudition and sophistication that you associate with the Thornapple blog when you are among gourmands and epicures by insisting that your fish or fowl be served “sans souci” (e.g. without sauce). Just take it from me and your dining can be carefree and without worry.

You may be wondering what the connection to food ethics is today, so I’ll fill you in. While doing my “research” for today’s blog I looked up the map for Provence on Google. Then a stray click on my mouse took me directly to the website for Hormel meats “Pepperoni Minis”. They come in something called a “pillow pack”. That’s about all I have to say about it. I’m sure the robots know what they are doing.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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One thought on “Vocabulary Builder

  1. Perfesser,

    Your a hoot, you know it? Think you can pull the wool over our eyes and tell us anything you want to — tall tales and such and we’ll believe it just because
    you say so.
    We ain’t as dumb as you think.
    Heck,
    everybody knows a Oxford is a kind of shoe with no laces.

    Like

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