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Four Surprising English Food Word Origins

We all know that certain food words, like the foods they symbolize, come from different cultures. The word "sushi," like the raw-fish-over-rice-balls it describes is definitely Japanese, just as "hamburger" is clearly German. But over time some of the origins of words and the foods they describe have been so hidden in the annals of history, that the stories behind certain food words we take for granted end up surprising us, such as:

Ketchup

Dan Jurafsky, linguist and author of The Language of Food, relates in the introduction of his book an anecdote in which a friend's astute child pointed out that a ketchup bottle was labeled "tomato ketchup," not just plain "ketchup." The label seemed redundant to her, as everyone knows that ketchup is always made out of tomatoes...or is it?

Turns out, it isn't. In fact, ketchup originated in China, and used to be made of fermented fish sauce, not tomatoes. The word "ketchup" originally meant "fish sauce' in the dialect of the Fujian people in Southern China. From Asia, ketchup eventually made its way to Europe and then to the Americas, where it lost the fish and took on the form that we all know and love today.

Toast

Why is it called a toast when people drink for the newly-married couple at a wedding or an honored guest at a feast? Apparently, according to Jurafsky's research, people used to drink alcoholic beverages like wine and ale with a piece of toast in it. Before this tradition of combining wine and toast died out in the 17th century, English diners began to develop a custom of having everyone at the table drink to someone's health. Hence, the linkage between the original toast (heated bread) and the wedding or other celebratory "toast."

Turkey

Is it just coincidence that the traditional Thanksgiving bird shares the same name as a country in the Middle East? Apparently no, says Jurafsky. Turkeys originally came from Mexico and in the Aztec language, were known as "totolin" or the more tongue-twister-ish "huexolotl." The turkey emigrated to Europe after Columbus arrived in the Americas, where it grew increasingly popular through the 1500s.

By the mid-1500s, France and England were importing guinea fowls, which look similar to small female turkeys. These guinea fowls were originally called "turkey cock" after the Turkish sultans who first sold the fowl to the Europeans in the 1400s.

Soon, Portugal began to re-import the guinea fowl as they were shipping turkeys from the Americas. But thanks to Portugal's paranoia about its maritime explorations, people could not tell which bird came from where, and began to mix the two up. Eventually, the name "turkey" stuck with the bird from the Americas, and that is why we call the usual Thanksgiving centerpiece a "turkey" today.

Alcohol

The word alcohol comes from the Arabic word "al-kuhl" which refers to black powdered eye makeup which people used since the time of the ancient Egyptians. The makeup was made of ground minerals. Over time, the word "alcohol" came to mean any fine powder or a distilled essence or spirit. Then in the 1700s, alcohol developed the meaning by which it is known today--an intoxicating liquid found in many different drinks.


New Year's Day Cryptic

Looked into beginning to date after kiss on new year (1-5)

Answer: XRAYED


Boxing Day Cryptic

A feature of Boxing Day, going Greek dancing (4,6)

Answer: KINGGEORGE


Christmas Day Cryptic

Christmas food for a king in church (4)

Answer: CAKE


Thanksgiving (USA) Cryptic

Persistently question family that supplies fruit (7)

Answer: PUMPKIN


International Men's Day Cryptic

That man Patrick in charge of livery (7)

Answer: HEPATIC


Bonfire Night Cryptic

Helpful to have the real reason for Fawkes's failure? (2,3)

Answer: OFUSE


World Students Day Cryptic

Relieved concerning student freed from anxiety (8)

Answer: RELEASED


The Em Dash

In high school your teacher probably wasn't too picky about whether you used parentheses or commas to set apart ideas within a sentence. However, if you're in college and you want to impress your professor or you're in the real world trying to get something published, a well-used pair of em dashes can really set you apart.

An em dash used in place of a comma can make things easier on your reader. This is especially true if there are already a few commas in the sentence. An em dash will draw the reader's attention, so make sure to use it only when you want to really want to put emphasis on an idea.

An em dash used in place of parentheses will make the set apart information really pop. Also remember, if you are replacing a parenthetical with an em dash at the end of a sentence, you only need the one em dash at the beginning of the parenthetical idea.

Make sure to use the em dash sparingly. Rarely should it be used more than twice in a sentence. If you have more than two em dashes your reader will probably just end up confused rather than impressed. It is also important to note that em dashes are considered less formal, so keep your audience in mind (i.e. if this is a research paper, maybe you don't need to be so flashy).

Word will automatically make an em dash for you if you type a normal dash with spaces before and after it. In most cases, it is proper grammar to have no spaces between the em dash and the words it separates, so after word automatically creates the em dash you should delete those spaces.

You should also check out Slate's article against em dashes to get a perspective from the other side of the aisle.


Talk Like a Pirate Day Cryptic

Covering article smuggled aboard by pirate (6)

Answer: CANOPY

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