Why is it called a grapefruit?  There is no immediate resemblance between a grape and a grapefruit.  The most common theory is that it in allusion to the way the fruit grows in clusters on the tree, resembling grapes.  This is not what seems like the most likely theory to me.  Another, less popular, but my favored theory is that the name comes from its scientific moniker.  Citrus grandis translates to great citrus or great fruit.  So perhaps, the grapefruit was called the greatfruit.  This indeed would be a good name for this giant breakfast orange.  

But we all know that language is formed between the constraints of the lazy tongue and the strained ears so perhaps we started calling it grapefruit for the of ease of the tongue and the misinterpretation of the ears.  



A doughboy is old American slang for a US soldier.  The term dates back to the Mexican-American War and had been used with frequency through WWI, after which ‘GI’ was more commonly used.  Where does the term doughboy come from?  

No one knows for sure.  There are a few common folk etymologies, though.  One states that while the American troops were hiking through the deserts of Northern Mexico they would become caked with dust the color of dough.  Another hypothesis references the big buttons on their uniforms.  Apparently they looked like big biscuits that were called doughboys back then.  

The unfortunate truth is that no one knows the origin of the term doughboy.

Supper Vs. Dinner

I have always used the term ‘dinner’ to mean the evening time meal, so I was surprised to learn that many Americans use it to mean ‘lunch’.  In parts of the country where their dinner is my lunch the term supper is used to mean the evening meal.  This discrepancy comes from the idea that dinner is the biggest meal of the day.  In some places, especially rural ones, the largest meal of the day comes closer to noon.  This midday feast is meant to give hard workers sustenance to last until dusk.  Supper comes from the word ‘soup’.  It was common to put the scraps in a pot and boil them all day until there was soup at the end of the day.  

Dinner has an interesting etymology as well.  When the term dinner was invented there were only two meals of the day.  Here is what wikipedia says about the topic: The word is from the Old French (ca 1300) disner, meaning “breakfast”, from the stem of Gallo-Romancedesjunare (“to break one’s fast”), from Latin dis- (“undo”) + Late Latin ieiunare (“to fast”), from Latin ieiunus (“fasting, hungry”).

Today we eat breakfast, which is following the etymology of dinner.  The moral of the story is that what we eat and when we eat varies between region and era.   

Mountain Dew and Moonshine

You probably know the origin of the name moonshine.  Yep, that’s a reference to alcohol made illegally during prohibition.  It was important to make it at night to hide the smoke of the distilling process from the eyes of the authority.  

But what you probably didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) is that “mountain dew” was another name for this illegal brew.  Mountain dew references the mountain stills in Appalachia.

The story goes that after prohibition ended a couple of brother made a lemon flavored soft drink that was meant as a mixer for whiskey.  They called it Mountain Dew after the mountain moonshine.  One thing lead to another and we still have mountain dew on grocery shelves today.  

Quote of the Week

“What this country needs is a drink.”

– FDR immediately after repealing prohibition with one stroke of his pen

Imperial Style Beer

It’s not uncommon to see an ‘imperial’ styled beer.  You have imperial stout, imperial pale ale and others.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from this blog, it is to not underestimate the history hidden in these food terms.  ‘Imperial’ comes to us from 1800’s.  British beer makers often exported their beers to the royal court in Russia.  To assure that the beer would arrive all the way to the “imperials” the brew master would increase the amount of alcohol and hops (both natural preservatives).  This strong tasting and higher alcohol beer was labeled ‘Imperial’. 

The story goes that Peter the Great enjoyed a stout beer on a trip to England and then requested a shipment of it.  But the first shipmen they sent arrived in poor form.  The next shipment was sent with the necessary alcohol and hops to keep the beer fresh.  This style became popular and was known as Russian Imperial Stout.  Other beer styles were soon altered in the same way and took on this same moniker. 


‘Spork’ is a portmanteau- a word made by taking two separate words and their definitions and combining them.  ‘Spork’ combines the purposes of the spoon and the fork, and their names.

Lewis Carroll invented the use of the word ‘portmanteau’ in this context.  Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the words in Jabberwocky such as “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable”.

He used the word portmanteau, which is one of those old-time suite cases in which both halves open up to reveal equal compartments.  He tells Alice, ‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

English has quite a few food-related portmanteaus.  Brunch, tofurky, frappuccino, appletini, and so on.  But many other languages have food related portmanteaus also, including this VERY old one – pupusa.  A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran food.  Basically a thick, stuffed tortilla.

Pupusa is what the Spanish called the native food popotlax.  Popotlax is a portmanteau of the Nahuatl words popotl meaning large and bulky, and tlaxkalli which means tortilla.

Fig Leaf

I had never hear this expression until just a day ago.  The New York Times called something a ‘fig leaf’ and I was forced to give it a google.  Turns out that, appropriately, a fig leaf is a cover-up for something embarrassing.  This is, of course, inspired by the Bible in which Adam and Eve covered up with fig leaves to mask their nudity.  A fig leaf gesture is one which will deflect criticism.

Quote of the week

If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.

– Abraham Lincoln

In a Pickle

To the Brits, pickle is a relish sauce.  And that is closer to the original meaning of the word.  Pickle is a brine sauce that was once slathered over meats back in the old, old days of yore.

This can more easily explain the idiom ‘In a pickle’.  If you’ve ever been trapped between two bases in a baseball game you know how uncomfortable pickles are.  The metaphor is quite clear if you think about it in a relish sort of way.  You are in a quagmire of salty liquid about to be eaten.

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