Menudo

Menudo holds a special place in the heart of Ricky Martin.  Not because of the tripe soup’s curative properties or for it’s distinct flavor, but because it was the name of the boy band where he got his start.  

Menudo in Puerto Rican spanish can mean youth, referring to a kids small statue because menudo traditionally means small.  In Spain, menudos are gizzards and innards.  This is why the tripe soup is called menudo.  And in Spanish when you say a menudo you are saying often, referring to the small increments of time passing between events.  

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Top Shelf

In American English ‘top shelf’ denotes something of high quality.  In British English it references something with adult content.  Why the discrepancy?  The difference in meaning has to do with the root sources of these phrases.  In British English, ‘top shelf’ comes from book stores that would keep racy books out of the reach of children.   In America the phrase comes to us via bars that keep their best quality liquors on the top shelf.

Bovril

It’s bovril drinking time in England.  Last night while watching Top Gear UK bovril was mentioned. Bovril is a thick and salty meat extract invented in England.  Bovril is made into a drink by diluting it with hot water.  The Brits call it ‘beef tea’.

Bovril has a very odd and concocted name.  Bo comes from bovine and vril comes from a sci-fi novel out of 1870 called The Coming Race.  The vril-ya in the book were a superior form of people who derive their power from an energy source called vril.

Some claim that the thermos was invented to keep bovril warm at football games in England.  Bovril is still sold at stadiums on cold days.

French Tongue Twister

Tatie, ton thé t’a-t-il ôté ta toux?

(Auntie, did the tea take away your cough?)

Kiwi

There are three kiwis that I am aware of.  Kiwifruit, kiwi bird and a New Zealander.  What do all of these things have in common?  I’ll tell you what we don’t have in common with New Zealand.  In New Zealand the kiwifruit isn’t called a kiwi at all, but rather a Chinese Gooseberry.  And it turns out that kiwis are actually from Northern China!

Kiwifruits were introduced to China when students from a girls school in New Zealand traveled to China and brought some seeds back.  The first kiwis were plucked from those plants in 1910.  They were later grown in New Zealand commercially.  They still carried their Chinese name back then, yáng táo.  Later the New Zealanders changed the name to Chinese Gooseberry.  Originally New Zealand imported them under the name Chinese Gooseberries to America.  Berries incurred extra taxes however so they decided to rename the fruit for the country they were being imported from.  Kiwi rolls of the tongue easier anyhow.

The people of New Zealand are named after the flightless bird that lives on that island, not the bird.

Made from scratch

It’s a proud feeling to have made something from scratch.  But scratch sounds like an odd place to begin.  What is scratch?  Scratch is an old sporting term.  It is a line ‘scratched’ into the sand that marks where the players should stand.  It marks the beginning of the race or match.  Early on ‘scratch’ was used in cricket and boxing, but is also used in foot races and other sports.  Now you know!

From Soup to Nuts

From soup to nuts is an expression meaning ‘from A to Z’.  But soup and nuts?  The origin comes from a full course meal in which you start with a soup and end with a dessert of nuts.  In Latin there is a similar expression, “ab ovo usque ad mala” meaning from egg to apple, reflecting the progression of courses for the Romans.

In the 1500s the English would say ‘from potage to cheese‘ depicting their meal sequence also.

Quote of the Week

Older people shouldn’t eat health food, they need all the preservatives they can get.
Robert Orben

Pen Knife

Today’s story starts with a pen knife. You’ve probably used one at some point, perhaps if you attended an arts and crafts class that catered to adults, who can presumably be trusted with such sharp objects. It’s a knife at the end of wooden or metal stick that resembles a pen if you squint, hence the name. Wrong.

The pen knife actually refers to a knife that was used to prepare goose feathers for use as pens, back before the ballpoint took the world by storm. You had to cut the feather in a certain way just to create the right pen nib, then mix ink by hand so that it was not so thick that it got stuck in the feather like so much ketchup in a glass bottle, but not so thin that it spilled all over this amazing new declaration that your pals John Adams and Ben Franklin were looking forward to reading. Tough stuff indeed. Besides the pen knife, the long-since-past relationship between pens and feathers is dead, as far as English is concerned, though one of the Spanish words for pen, “pluma,” does mean feather (think “plumage).
Is it a stretch to talk about goose feathers on a blog dedicated to food words? Maybe, since feathers are not exactly the delicious part of the goose. Still, geese are tasty, and they have at least two other honorable mentions in the idiomatic department: “Your goose is cooked,” and “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” So stick that in your feather and write with it. But you’ll need to use a pen knife first.

Stelvin Closure

If you want to be fancy about your screw cap bottle of wine (not to say that you can’t…I’m all in favor of the screw cap) then call it a Stelvin closure.  People ‘in the know’ about wine never say screw cap they say Stelvin closure.

Stelvin closure is like Kleenex in that it is a brand that has become a generic.  Unfortunately, I can not find why it is called Stelvin!  Do you know?

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