Vegetables Don’t Exist.

Lynne Peskoe-Yang has an enjoyable piece for Popula on the problems with the term “vegetable”; she begins with the Supreme Court case (Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 [1893]) that determined that John Nix’s tomatoes were properly subject to vegetable tariffs even though they were technically “fruits” in botanical terms, because they were commonly understood to be vegetables:

In this way, Gray and his fellow jurists sealed the tomato’s identity crisis into law. The legal definition would be what common speech suggested, even if biology indicated the opposite. Nix’s tomatoes would be called “vegetables” because that’s what everyone called them. […]

Botanically speaking, it’s still clear: eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash are all fruits. It’s equally clear that mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants. But these are all, also, in common usage, “vegetables.” Yet when an authority like the Oxford English Dictionary should provide clarity on what a vegetable actually is, it instead defines vegetables as a specific set of certain cultivated plant parts, “such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.” And since carrots and turnips are roots, potatoes are tubers, broccoli is a flower, cabbage is a leaf, and celery is a stem, we find that “vegetable” rarely applies to the entire plant (or to the same parts of the plant), while it also has a way of applying to things that aren’t actually vegetables. It is a category both broader and more specific that the thing it’s supposed to describe.

In a botanical sense, it’s easy: vegetables don’t exist as a discrete, coherent category. And the more you know about botany–the nuanced phylogeny that gardeners and farmers know and the centuries of research into plant evolution that botanists have learned–the more likely you’ll be a dissenter in the vegetable debate. “This is why people hate botanists,” as one disillusioned commenter wrote in a particularly heated r/Botany thread.

Unfortunately, there’s a silly excursus on how dictionaries “betray the [descriptivist] cause by appealing to the etymological past, breaking words down into their simplest and oldest-known usages” (!), but there’s plenty of good stuff about veggies and their history, e.g.:

In the fifteenth century, vegetable entered the English language when it acquired a different meaning than its French predecessor: instead of merely living, it meant, specifically, “non-animal life.” But it wouldn’t be recorded as meaning “plant cultivated for food; edible herb or root” until 1767, because it would take some time to overtake its Anglo-Saxon synonym, wort (a word which clings to relevance today when it pops up in Harry Potter’s Potions class and other kinds of breweries).

Then again, “wort” was not vegetable. It referred both to modern vegetables like colewort (cabbage) and to things we’d now call spices, herbs, weeds, and flowers: brotherwort (wild thyme), catwort (catnip), and starwort (asters). Corn, potatoes, squash, peppers, and tomatoes, of course, would not have been called “wort” because these American vegetables hadn’t yet arrived on the continent. Leeks, lettuce, parsnip, and onions were native to Britain, but they were not central to the local cuisine; even after the French and their salads arrived on the Isle, raw plants were believed to be poisonous. The only “vegetables” we’d recognize that Anglo-Saxon peasants consumed were stewed peas, stewed radish, and cabbages (and those largely because it was believed that cabbage broth had laxative properties and radish was an antidote to poison).

Thanks, jack!

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    This article was entertaining and not too ignorant (compared to some), but it still annoyed me. Prescriptivism and descriptivism are irrelevant and shouldn’t have been brought in.

    The big problem is the notion that “science is correct”, and that we shouldn’t use scientifically incorrect formulations in language. This has long struck me as the biggest fallacy of all. If we followed scientific formulations to express experience, the language would be transformed beyond belief.

    You could not say “the sky is blue today” (scientists will tell you that it’s not actually blue), instead you would have to say something like “at this part of the diurnal cycle in which the sun is observable from the earth to sighted organisms that can perceive wavelengths within a certain part of the spectrum, certain wavelengths are filtered out by the atmosphere of the planet, allowing them to detect only a limited portion of the spectrum, and moreover there are no intervening vapours or microparticles to prevent this part of the spectrum from being perceived by such organisms” — something like that.

    We could not talk about the Sun or the moon “rising”; we would have to discuss it in terms of planetary rotation. We could not talk of “getting old”, we would have to discuss it in terms of atrophication or accelerated cell death due to the passage of time (from a non-relativistic viewpoint) from the moment of conception.

    Scientists have already convinced us that we shouldn’t call animals living in the sea “fish”, even though we continue to use incorrect terminology like “starfish”, “jellyfish”, and “shellfish”. They would have us believe that “fish” is “wrong”; in fact it was the scientists who unilaterally decided that the old word “fish” should be narrowed to cover only a portion of what were formerly known as “fish”. But when they want to describe such creatures “scientifically”, we get terms like “echinoderm” (‘hedgehog skin’) or “medusa”.

    I have dealt elsewhere with the contortions that ornithologists go through to ensure that names of birds accord with their “real” taxonomic status, and the belief that we should use only the names they have mandated in order to be correct. The only result is to continually twist the so-called “common names” to conform with what is known about the taxonomy at the time — when that is actually supposed to be the job of the scientific names. So we have the ornithologist’s habitual verbal tics like “The night hawk is not actually a hawk”, etc., when that should be made obvious by the taxonomy. And, of course, to describe the night hawks correctly, you must fall back on unscientific vocabulary and call them Chordeiles, which means something like “string of a lyre or harp (chorde) at dusk (deile)”.

    What chance has the poor vegetable got?

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Come to that, “animal” to include jellyfish, butterflies and amoebae is an even more egregious scientific hijacking of an ordinary word in a technical sense.

    However, I for one am delighted to hear that vegetables do not, in fact, exist. That means that I no longer have to finish my vegetables.

  3. One you realize that vegetables are etymologically veg-edibles (the -an of vegan elided), most of your problems go away.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Only American vegetables are vegedibles. Here in the Old World we eschew such things. Because they’re pretty eschewy.

  5. I was going to say that it’s all pretty clear-cut to me and I don’t know what the fuss is all about, but then in my mind potatoes are obviously not vegetables, so I guess I disagree with the OED…

  6. Fruits that are not usually eaten as a sweet are vegetables: tomatoes and tomatillos are “vegetables”, but ground cherries are “fruit”. Quince are not sweet, but are prepared the same way as sweet fruit.

    Pumpkins are a mystery.

  7. in my mind potatoes are obviously not vegetables
    Vegetables are very important, legally, in the US where the school lunch programs must serve them in abundance. So removing french fries and pizza sauce from the designated vegetable list may destroy the nation’s economy.

    The gaps between scientific and layman definition are great because they provoke thought. JMHO.

  8. John Cowan says:

    certain wavelengths are filtered out by the atmosphere

    The problem with “the sky is blue” is the concept “sky”. It is quite true that blue light is coming at us from all visible directions, but that does not mean that its source is an object called “the sky”. Rather, the blue light comes from the sun but is so thoroughly scattered by the atmosphere so that its source appears to exist in all directions.

    Tell me why the stars do shine
    Tell me why the ivy twines
    Tell me why the sky’s so blue
    Tell me, oh tell me, just why I love you.

    Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
    Tropism makes the ivy twine,
    Scattering makes the sky so blue,
    Gonadal hormones are why I love you.

    (MIT version of a particularly sappy lullaby whose canonical second verse is “Because God made” etc.)

  9. ” fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants.”
    So eating mushrooms is veering dangerously close to cannibalism. Where can I draw the line as a vegetarian?

  10. The only “vegetables” we’d recognize that Anglo-Saxon peasants consumed were stewed peas, stewed radish, and cabbages (… laxative properties … antidote to poison).

    I’m suddenly feeling bigly in favour of the Norman Conquest. I could happily do without meat (and frequently do) but onions, garlic, (nearly-)raw greens never. OK tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums came later.

    What did these poor Anglo-S peasants eat? I presume meat was a luxury. Citrus wouldn’t grow in Northern latitudes; soft fruit in Summer; apples/pears in Autumn. So didn’t they come down with scurvy in the Winter?

  11. Cabbage. Mariners, too, learned eventually to carry sauerkraut on long voyages.
    Don’t know about wild brassicas.

  12. SFReader says:

    I also became big supporter of Norman conquest when I learned that the Norman kings abolished slavery.

    Before king William, the English were selling and buying their compatriots like cattle.

  13. Is it ever an actual botanist playing the “actually did you know” game? In my experience it’s always somebody on the Internet who read something about “botanists actually”, or at most a sophomore who took Botany 101 and mishandled what the instructor said about ovaries.

  14. Of course, scientistic pedantry is hardly constrained to the field of biology, as anyone who has, for example, uttered the phrase “weight in kilograms” around physicists will know. I don’t know any biologists personally, but I do know other scientists who indulge in this sort of nonsense; a prominent example in the media is the presumably very clever Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who gleefully and unironically reminds the hoi polloi periodically that, among other things, there is no cosmological significance to dates, which “merely” signify an arbitrary point in the rotation of the Earth around the solar system’s barycentre.

  15. AJP Crown says:

    I’m 100% with Dressing Gown on this. Next they’ll be saying tomato ketchup is a kind of orange juice.

    selling and buying their compatriots like cattle
    Some would say that buying & selling and generally mistreating animals is just as bad as slavery.

    It was the Romans, not the Normans, who brought the tossed green salad to Britain in the form of the weed ‘ground elder’ (Aegopodium podagraria aka Skvallerkål). My wife says we’re going to have to start eating it again this summer. I hate the stuff.

    Why do we have to say cabbage when we have cole? Different -coles could be grouped together, as they are in Scandinavia & Germany.

    The gaps between scientific and layman definition are great because they provoke thought.
    True, except the opposite of scientist isn’t layman.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Of course potatoes aren’t vegetables. They’re σῖτος, like rice, pasta, couscous, cornmeal and millet.

    when we have cole?

    Wouldn’t coal sometimes interfere?

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    it was the Romans, not the Normans, who brought the tossed green salad to Britain

    Given that they’re called by a Latin name, I presume it was also the Romans that introduced those horrid things, peas, to the Land of the Painted People.

    Or did the wicked Saxon bring them as part of his evil plan to demoralise the natives?

  18. AJP Crown says:

    Peas(e) pudding, peas for evermore.

    Nowadays they grow rhubarb in the dark in Yorkshire (although I’m pretty sure it’s really marijuana and they’re just telling the police it’s rhubarb), so why not cole down old coal mines? Another example of cole working better. Cabbage mines? Where are they?

  19. Bathrobe says:

    According to the Royal Horticultural Society, “Ground elder is an herbaceous, invasive, perennial weed. It spreads via rhizomes (underground stems), which can regenerate from a just a tiny fragment left in the ground.”

    Who would want to eat that?

  20. Lars (the original one) says:

    The closest equivalent to ‘vegetable’ in Danish is grønsag. Which includes carrots, red peppers, mushrooms and so on, not just leaf greens. In older usage potatoes were included too, but modern health advice wants to distinguish starchy staples from things with more fibre and nutrients. (If Danes were allowed to count potatoes as part of the daily ‘4 handfuls’ of veg and fruit, they would eat nothing else). So now potato is a cereal crop.

    Now, if ‘science’ does not define vegetable at all, it takes a strange mind to claim that it means that the word has no referent. Discussions about nuts and fruits, OK, I can’t blame biologists for wanting to use those words exclusively for groups of things that develop in the same way, and that leaves the door open for ‘technically correct’ nitpicking. (The best kind, as everybody knows).

    Also, if the Normans tossed their salad, maybe it had gone off on the trip from Normandy. (Not sorry).

  21. John Cowan says:

    I presume it was also the Romans that introduced those horrid things, peas

    Pease was a major crop in England already in 1066, so I presume it was the Romans. Of course, it wasn’t until early modern times that the individual seeds were eaten green, as is most often done today. Rather it was pease porridge and pease pudding (similar, but cooked in a bag with butter or lard) that were the dominating dishes made with Pisum sativum, so much so that in the 15-16C the words porridge/pottage (they are doublets) and pudding unqualified implied pease dishes.

    For myself, I like green pease very well as an occasional alternative to the monotonous diet of broccoli, squashes, and asparagus available hereabouts to those who don’t like peppers (as I do not). Unlike any of the others, it also freezes extremely well, and is succulent when microwaved briefly with butter and dried tarragon.

    Ground elder is an herbaceous, invasive, perennial weed.

    So it is. In his novel A Case of Conscience, James Blish wrote: “The pineapple is a prolific and dangerous weed, edible only by a happy and irrelevant accident”, which is no less than the truth.

    rhubarb in the dark

    Y’know, Rhubarb, Mungo, and Shoddy (see the link above) would be an excellent name for a rock trio from Yorkshire, the Texas of the U.K.

    Perhaps the Normans also tossed each others’ salads from time to time.

  22. rock trio from Yorkshire

    I’m sure you meant the village of New York — the original and the best.

  23. ‘What did these poor Anglo-S peasants eat?”

    Ant, they foraged a lot. They ate dandelions and nettles, which are better than a lot of field grown vegetables anyway, and then there were seasonal delights like corn salad and various cresses. A lot of it went into the pot but there is a tradition still surviving, maybe mostly in the US, of blanching or even poaching greens and then dressing them with vinegar and oil – probably malt vinegar and dripping of some kind originally. I used to think this was French – it’s not – or Italian – it’s not, because it had to do with greens. Apparently it’s originally a British thing.

    “Perhaps the Normans also tossed each others’ salads from time to time.”

    I think the Normans were doing very well to have transitioned from lutefisk. Don’t push it.

  24. As someone who actually teaches about Rayleigh scattering and “why the sky is blue,” I find the word firmament very useful, since it refers to the (imaginary) dome of the sky. Occasionally, I get asked what the word means, but the graduate students generally seem to know what I’m talking about.

    Or the are to chagrined to ask. I started using the word neper recently (although not in class) and although I’m sure that word is obscure to almost everyone, so far nobody has called me on it. (It means “e-fold,” in the same way decibel means “tenfold” or “order of magnitude.”) Personally, I had policy as a student to ask about anything I did not understand, and I still adhere to that when attending talks. Occasionally, my questions looked dumb; most of the time they were reasonable; and on rare occasions, they revealed profound additional depths to the matters being discussed.

  25. and then there were seasonal delights like corn salad

    What is “corn salad” in this context?

  26. January First-of-May says:

    in the same way decibel means “tenfold” or “order of magnitude.”

    It doesn’t; bel does, and decibel is 1/10 of that (logarithmically, i.e. a ratio with a decimal logarithm of 1/10).
    Fun fact: one (astronomical) magnitude is exactly four decibels.

  27. Charles Perry says:

    Y and Gruen are right. Vegetables are non-animal foodstuffs used in savory dishes — soups, stews, salads, etc.; fruits are the same that are either eaten because they are sweet or sweetened in cooking. So lemons are fruits and pumpkins can play for either team — they’re a vegetable as a side dish and a fruit in pie. It’s all about usage, science don’t enter into the matter.
    This is 18 years as a staff writer on a metro daily food section speaking here.

  28. You could not say “the sky is blue today” (scientists will tell you that it’s not actually blue)

    Seriously? I’ve been an astronomer for almost 30 years, and I’ve never heard anyone say “the sky isn’t actually blue”. You’re making this up, right?

    Also, your “scientifically correct” statement isn’t even scientifically correct as an explanation of why the sky is blue. (It’s partly an explanation of why the Sun appears redder when it’s near the horizon.)

    We could not talk about the Sun or the moon “rising”; we would have to discuss it in terms of planetary rotation.

    In the various volumes of The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe has occasional fun with poetic versions of that, e.g. “Urth turned her face from the sun’s as we traveled” or “When the western horizon had climbed nearly to the sun”.

  29. Charles Perry, that definition of fruit seems too expansive. Do you really call rhubarb a fruit? Sweet potatoes? Carrots in carrot cake? Zucchini in zucchini bread (at least that one is biologically a fruit)? Onions and celery in disgusting 1970s Jello molds? Are nuts both fruits and vegetables?

  30. The problem with “the sky is blue” is the concept “sky”. It is quite true that blue light is coming at us from all visible directions, but that does not mean that its source is an object called “the sky”. Rather, the blue light comes from the sun but is so thoroughly scattered by the atmosphere so that its source appears to exist in all directions.

    That’s rather like saying it’s wrong to say “tomatoes are red”, since the source of the red light is really the sun (or artificial lights if it’s nighttime or indoors): it’s the sun’s red light preferentially scattering from the surface of tomatoes rather than being absorbed.

    (If you wanted to be really pedantic, I supposed you could say “the atmosphere is blue” instead of “the sky is blue”, since the atmosphere is more of a physical object.)

  31. AJP Crown says:

    Charles Perry, Do you really call rhubarb a fruit?

    He just said that as a comparison to vegetables you wouldn’t call it fruit unless it were sweet or sweetened. Not that all sweet or sweetened dishes are fruits, cf. ice cream, rice pudding, cornflakes.

  32. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Of course rhubarb is a fruit, you put it in fruit crumble. What else would it be?

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    It might be the crumble. Logically.

  34. George Grady says:

    It’s really quite simple: If you mix it with sugar and bake it in a pie, it’s a fruit; if you mix it with garlic and olive oil and roast it, it’s a vegetable. Easy peasy. This is why potatoes are vegetables and sweet potatoes are fruits.

  35. January First-of-May says:

    …This means that carrots are probably fruits, which is a bit unexpected but does kind of make sense.

    (I vaguely recall having read somewhere that regular potatoes and sweet potatoes are actually nearly as unrelated as plants could be while still being plants. But maybe that was yams.)

  36. AJP Crown says:

    Of course it means that Vichy Carrots, steamed and caramelised black with sugar & butter are a fruit whereas Sicilian-Style Carrots with anchovies, garlic and parsley are a vegetable. Or, in short, bananas are a fruit but plantains may be a vegetable.

    Robe: “Ground elder is an invasive, perennial weed that spreads via rhizomes (underground stems), which can regenerate from a just a tiny fragment left in the ground.” Who would want to eat that?

    That’s my point. It’s not unattractive, especially in flower; but after spending the whole summer on my knees digging out bloody ground-elder rhizomes, the last thing I want to do is toss it in a honey vinaigrette and wonder if it’s a bowl of fruit.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Sweet potatoes, sez Wikipedia, belong to Solanales, but not to Solanaceae.

    …This means that carrots are probably fruits, which is a bit unexpected but does kind of make sense.

    Carrots belong in soup, confirming they’re vegetables.

  38. Jonathan D says:

    I’ve never understood why so many people think something like “botanically, vegetables don’t exist” is a good way to express the idea that vegetable is not a botanical category.

    I also have trouble with the concept that sweet potatoes fall on the sweet pie side of a a sweet pie/roast divide, but that goes for pumpkin too, and the strange things Americans do with them is well known.

  39. Bathrobe says:

    @ Peter Erwin

    your “scientifically correct” statement isn’t even scientifically correct as an explanation of why the sky is blue

    True. But that wasn’t my point.

    That’s rather like saying it’s wrong to say “tomatoes are red”, since the source of the red light is really the sun (or artificial lights if it’s nighttime or indoors): it’s the sun’s red light preferentially scattering from the surface of tomatoes rather than being absorbed.

    True again. And that was my point.

    I’ve heard the explanation that “the sky isn’t really blue, it just appears blue” a number of times and I can never fathom why it’s supposed to make sense. If something appears blue to our eyes it is “blue”. What is important is the human perception that it is blue.

    This is the same as calling the products of ‘the vegetable kingdom’ (a now superseded category) that are not used for their sweetness ‘vegetables’. The scientific categorisation into fruits, roots, rhizomes, flowers, or whatever is irrelevant. What is relevant is that these plant materials have specific uses within the diet of many human beings and have been given a name to reflect this.

    If you come down to it, scientists will also tell you that the fruit we call the pineapple is ‘an edible multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries’ or that technically strawberry ‘is an aggregate accessory fruit, meaning that the fleshy part is derived not from the plant’s ovaries but from the receptacle that holds the ovaries.’ Science also tells us that cucumbers are ‘fruit’. So what? This might be useful if you are looking at ways of propagating these plants, but are irrelevant to human beings, because terms like ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetable’ are food categories used to describe the uses to which these products are put. (Similarly, ‘peanuts’ are not nuts, but so what?)

    The problem here is the invocation of science to tell us what really qualify as fruits, what really qualify as nuts, and what really qualify as vegetables. The scientific description is irrelevant. What is important is how these things are ordered within the lives and dietary habits of human beings.

  40. Although it has nothing to do with the azure that we see, the atmosphere really is blue, actually. Of the components of the atmosphere, most are colorless, but the one fifth dioxygen has an actual blue hue under normal lighting. It’s just an extremely faint, unsaturated blue. With liquid oxygen, the color can be faintly apparent, but with the gas there is no chance with human eyesight.

  41. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think the best phrase is toward the end of the article linked in the original post: “since vegetable only describes what appears on the table, it has little clarity when applied to the various sources, on the farm and in the forest.” The author seems, however, to think this a bad thing — I think it makes perfect sense. Maybe we should have other lexemes in wider use that divide the world differently from a different point of view, but that’s a separate issue.

    I note FWIW that in most American grocery stores fresh fruits and vegetables are grouped together in the “produce” section, meaning no one has to worry about linedrawing in borderline cases; likewise the now-somewhat-archaic-sounding “greengrocer” was a fellow who sold both fruits and vegetables without having to commit to exactly where the line between them lay.

  42. January First-of-May says:

    Although it has nothing to do with the azure that we see, the atmosphere really is blue, actually.

    …which is presumably why distant objects near the horizon appear to be slightly tinted blue.

  43. Tomatoes are red, the sky is blue
    Valentine’s day has long since passed.

  44. Bathrobe says:

    fresh fruits and vegetables are grouped together in the “produce” section

    As they are in the common expression ‘fruit and vegetables’.

    It just struck me, however, that plants from the sea (such as kelp) don’t usually get counted as vegetables. Could the term vegetables perhaps be customarily confined to land-based vegetable matter?

  45. J.W. Brewer says:

    Seaweed doesn’t go under “produce” in American grocery stores; it goes under “ethnic/Asian foods.” If it had traditionally been a more major part of the mainstream diet in Anglophone cultures, things might be otherwise.

  46. “I can’t define vegetable but I know it when I see it” (c) vegetable threshold test

  47. Green plantains are a vegetable, but ripe plantains are a fruit?

    No. They are both fruit, courtesy of cousin banana.

  48. Carrots belong in soup, confirming they’re vegetables.

    Is a Carrot a Vegetable or Fruit?
    For the purposes of the European Union’s “Council Directive 2001/113/EC of 20 December 2001 relating to fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and sweetened chestnut purée intended for human consumption” carrots can be defined as a fruit as well as a vegetable. The Directive, written in the 80s and updated in 2001 describes the parameters required for a product to be labelled as jam or marmalade and from which the UK Jam and Similar Products legislation is based, there is the phrase “for the purposes of this directive, tomatoes, the edible part of rhubarb stalks, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and water melons are considered to be fruit”. This was introduced to pacify the Portuguese who are strongly into Carrot Marmalade and it is quite a delicacy!

    http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/jam.html

  49. Jonathan D says:

    ‘Greengrocer’ is archaic?

  50. Not to be confused with the fruiterer.

  51. Seaweed doesn’t go under “produce” in American grocery stores; it goes under “ethnic/Asian foods.” If it had traditionally been a more major part of the mainstream diet in Anglophone cultures …

    Before the Anglos were the Celts eating seaweed. Do they count as “ethnic”?

    Carrot Marmalade

    Onion jam?

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Similarly, ‘peanuts’ are not nuts, but so what?

    I’m allergic to nuts, but not to peanuts.

    Peanuts smell extremely strongly of nuts, though, so I avoid them anyway. 🙂

    plants from the sea (such as kelp)

    Fun fact: land plants come from green algae; red algae (like laverbread, which I had no idea of) are closely related to green algae; but brown algae, like kelp, are something quite different, much closer to Irish potato blight (not a fungus!) than to plants, and probably barely closer to plants than to animals…

    Laverbread seems interesting. I’d worry about Sellafield/Windscale, though.

    the Portuguese who are strongly into Carrot Marmalade

    My point was that carrots and sweet don’t go together. This is part of why I don’t eat raw carrots. Carrot cake is just wrongheaded; carrot marmalade I had fortunately never heard of. 🙂

    Onion jam I didn’t know either. My mom makes apple/onion jam, though.

  53. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Similarly, ‘peanuts’ are not nuts, but so what?

    But they are peas, or at least legumes. I don’t think they’re actually misnamed, just misunderstood…

  54. Carrot cake is just wrongheaded;

    Hunh? You can’t have met the right sort; or perhaps you’re not matching it with strong enough coffee. It’s an absolute staple of coffee shops in NZ & Aus.

    I’d guess it’s a pale imitation of Carrot Halva. Having made that (once) and tried the commercial variety (a few times), I’d advise keeping the ghee, almonds and pistachios, and throwing away the rest.

  55. And then there is sweet bean paste:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_bean_paste

  56. …which is presumably why distant objects near the horizon appear to be slightly tinted blue.

    Not sure what you’re suggesting here… Distant objects appear to be tinted blue because there’s more atmosphere between you and more distant objects, and so you get more blue light from the atmosphere (which is ultimately scattered sunlight) added to the light coming from from the distant objects by the time it reaches your eyes. (It has nothing to do with oxygen molecules per se.)

  57. Del Cotter says:

    Was it not said of the Romans that they make a dessert, and call it pease?

  58. I’ve considered for a while that a better name for peanuts would have been “nutpeas”.

  59. they make a dessert, and call it pease

    I laughed! And as far as Google knows, that’s original with you, so hearty congratulations.

  60. SFReader says:

    they make a dessert, and call it pease

    Making puns about vegetables is easy peasy

  61. Our vegetable discussion grows vaster
    Than empires, and much faster.

    Seaweed doesn’t go under “produce” in American grocery stores; it goes under “ethnic/Asian foods.”

    A California supermarket chain shelves matzos and gefillte fish under “Asian foods,” or did ~40 years ago.

  62. John Cowan says:

    I think the Normans were doing very well to have transitioned from lutefisk.

    You might want to look up “toss your salad” in UD, or then again you might not. Standard warnings apply.

    That’s rather like saying it’s wrong to say “tomatoes are red”

    Not at all. Tomatoes are actual objects; the sky is not.

    “botanically, vegetables don’t exist” is a good way to express the idea

    As good as saying “In physics, the sky doesn’t exist”.

    dioxygen has an actual blue hue

    Trioxygen (a much smaller component) even more so, a beautiful deep blue.

    ‘Greengrocer’ is archaic?

    In American English, yes. When I go to the place that sells fruits and vegetables, I call it a produce market.

    You can’t have met the right sort

    The problem with carrot cake isn’t the (ground) carrots, it’s the tooth-cracking nuts in it. As for coffee, what Austrians don’t know about coffee isn’t worth knowing.

    Was it not said of the Romans that they make a dessert, and call it pease?

    All we are saying, is give pease a chance. (Not original with me.)

    matzos and gefillte fish under “Asian foods”

    Well, they are eaten by people who ultimately come from West Asia, I suppose.

  63. What is “corn salad” in this context?

    Presumably lamb’s lettuce, Rapunzel, Valerianella locusta. So-called because it grows in wheat fields.

  64. John Emerson says:

    Lomg time no see. I have been rousted from my Facebook home by dark forces.

    There’s a 91th c. story “Pigs is pigs” about a railway clerk who insists and charging the swine freight rate for gunea pigs

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigs_Is_Pigs

  65. Emerson! I’ve been wishing you’d show up again. I remember loving “Pigs Is Pigs” when I read it as a wee lad.

  66. WTF?! I got curious and went to Facebook and got:

    Account Temporarily Unavailable.
    Your account is currently unavailable due to a site issue. We expect this to be resolved shortly. Please try again in a few minutes.

  67. Are the dark forces rousting all of us?

  68. J.W. Brewer says:

    Valiant investigative reporting by old-fashioned media sources has led to the discovery that many people are having similar difficulties. Facebook HQ has said they’re working on it but amusingly resorted to twitter in order to make sure that message got through.

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/13/facebook-suffers-outage-related-to-core-whatsapp-and-instagram.html

  69. Huh. Well, I’m willing to make that sacrifice; anything that brings JE back is fine with me.

  70. Del Cotter says:

    Speaking of railwaymen practising taxonomy for the purpose of charging for carriage, 1869 Punch cartoon: “Cats is Dogs, and Rabbits is Dogs, and so’s Parrots, but this ere Tortis is a Insect,”

    https://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000CRlATCk4EiM

  71. AJP Crown says:

    Emerson is leaving cos I left.

  72. Jonathan D says:

    As good as saying “In physics, the sky doesn’t exist”.

    Hmm. I feel that “in botany, ..” is less likely than “botanically, …” to lead to an interpretation along the lines of “you’re defying science if you call anything a vegetable.” And “biologically, …” is even worse.

  73. John Cowan says:

    And a long time ago in Britain a typewriter was, for railway freight purposes, a musical instrument.

    Disney cartoon of “Pigs is Pigs”, about 11 minutes. I watched it with Dorian the other day, and he loved it.

  74. I’m gonna get rid of my gardening shears,
    my gardening shears!
    I’m gonna live like vegetables do not exist,
    like they do not exist!

  75. David Marjanović says:

    As for coffee, what Austrians don’t know about coffee isn’t worth knowing.

    I don’t count, though. Being somehow insensitive to caffeine, I see no reason to drink bitter stuff that glues itself to the palate and stays there. It smells better than it tastes…

    I’ve also never seen a carrot cake with downright ground carrots, only with macroscopic pieces.

  76. John Cowan says:

    I don’t drink coffee either: it screws with a diabetic metabolism. For a long time I had trouble staying awake during the day: now I’m taking modafinil, which makes all the difference. I agree that coffee smells much better than it tastes.

    It’s true that carrots are grated rather than ground in carrot cake.

  77. I personally love vegetable-based desserts, whether made from pumpkin, beans, carrots, green tomatoes, parsnips…

  78. Bathrobe says:

    That’s rather like saying it’s wrong to say “tomatoes are red”

    Not at all. Tomatoes are actual objects; the sky is not.

    This is the same fallacy that I have been pointing out from the beginning. Because science says “It isn’t an object”, we should listen to science? So we should purge our vocabulary of the word “sky” because it isn’t an object? Or are you just saying that “the sky is blue” is meaningless unless we explain the scientific reason for it appearing blue? Why shouldn’t the same apply to tomatoes, which “appear” different by day or by night? If the sky turned red overnight due to some cataclysm, are we supposed to avoid saying “the sky is red” because “the sky isn’t an object”? How else are we supposed to describe it if we don’t know the cause?

    It is one thing to have science elucidate phenomena around us. It is another for science to insist that some linguistic usage (like “vegetable” or “sky”) is scientifically “wrong”.

  79. Lars (the original one) says:

    I don’t think that science personified insists on anything, and most scientists I know are perfectly happy to say the sky is blue — or cloudy, which is a perfectly cromulent way of talking about particulate water in the lower atmosphere, but treating ‘the sky’ as even more of an abstraction. What scientists want is to talk among themselves using common words that they agree on a specialized meaning for, which is more or less the opposite.

    “The humidity and temperature profiles of the local air column have developed in such a way that water vapor condensed into opaque droplets which remain between the 200m and 300m levels.”

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, but the droplets aren’t opaque at all. They just reflect and refract light. 🙂

  81. AJP Crown says:

    Isn’t it all about sets and Venn diagrams? Where’s Empty (although Empty doesn’t like talking about sets when he’s off duty)? Botanists have a set called “Fruit” of things that have seeds, and shoppers have a set called “Fruit” of things they eat for dessert. Some shoppers are scientists so in places the sets overlap.

  82. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t drink coffee either: it screws with a diabetic metabolism.

    Wow, really? Not with mine, it doesn’t. But I’m Type 1 and you’re Type 2, right?

    If only coffee tasted as good as it smells.

  83. John Cowan says:

    Because science says “It isn’t an object”, we should listen to science? So we should purge our vocabulary of the word “sky” because it isn’t an object? Or are you just saying that “the sky is blue” is meaningless unless we explain the scientific reason for it appearing blue? Why shouldn’t the same apply to tomatoes, which “appear” different by day or by night? If the sky turned red overnight due to some cataclysm, are we supposed to avoid saying “the sky is red” because “the sky isn’t an object”? How else are we supposed to describe it if we don’t know the cause?

    Yes to the first, no to all the rest. There are plenty of nouns that everyone agrees don’t refer to objects. Pain, for example, is the one of the states of a mind (human or otherwise). We can say “I have a pain in my leg”, meaning that I am in pain and my brain attributes it to my leg (it may in fact come from a pinched nerve in my back), but hardly “*I have five pains in my leg.” It’s just obvious that reifying pain (= treating pain as an object) makes no sense. It was far from obvious that reifying the sky makes no sense either, but now we know it doesn’t and can go on.

    So “I have a pain in my leg” is perfectly cromulent, it’s just that it doesn’t entail “There is an object called ‘a pain’ which is (at the moment) in my leg” in the way that “Tomatoes are red” entails “There are objects called ‘tomatoes’ which are red (when ripe, etc. etc.)”. And the same with “The sky is blue”, which doesn’t entail “There is an object called ‘the sky’ which is blue (in daylight, etc. etc.)”

  84. John Cowan says:

    Oh yes: it’s only type 2 diabetics who are adversely affected by caffeine, which causes a surge in blood sugar up to 10% and a concomitant surge in insulin. Type 1s make no insulin anyway and react normally to caffeine.

  85. Del Cotter says:

    Making puns about vegetables is easy peasy

    I was going to go the Life of Brian route:
    “All right, but apart from all that, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
    “Brought peas?”
    “Oh, peas… SHUT UP!”

  86. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re typewriters as a musical instrument, there is an actual performing ensemble named the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, who do what their name suggests.

  87. Bathrobe says:

    Your analogy is invalid. “There is an object called ‘a pain’ which is (at the moment) in my leg” and “The sky is blue” are totally different animals. You are again adopting the science point of view and glossing over the linguistic. You can’t just shuffle these cards together and come up with the observation that they are both the same.

    Only children might conclude that there is an object called “pain” in a person’s leg. No ordinary speaker would think that way. Pain is another way of saying ‘it hurts’. No one else can see it.

    But most people would regard the sky as having some kind of reality, something you can talk about rather than just a feeling. At least they would not conclude it was just an abstract concept. The sky is there. People can see it. It might be hard to pin down but it is not regarded as an identity with no existence beyond a turn of speech.

  88. SFReader says:

    Best musical instrument ever

    https://youtu.be/0F5k70xwGSk?t=602

  89. What Austrians don’t know about coffee isn’t worth knowing.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but Austria actually has a fairly poor reputation among coffee lovers. Native Austrian coffee culture reflects the state of the art ca. 1960, at best. Italy is far better for the traditional espresso/cappuccino drinker. If you are a hipster who wants „third wave coffee“ with attention to artisanal detail and quality, then you will actually find better coffee in Brooklyn, Tokyo or Sidney (or Northampton, MA no doubt). Although Vienna is starting to play catch up and their are some excellent little coffee shops now in the Vorstädte.

  90. AJP Crown says:

    It might just be that the idea of coffee goes very well with Sachertorte, Mozart and croissants.

  91. Don’t get me started on Sachertorte (a desert that must have seemed exciting in 1890) or croissants (usually doughy and lifeless in Vienna, nothing like France). I would go with a topfenstrudel myself. But yes to Mozart. Also the fact that you can still read a daily newspaper attached to a stick in a Viennese coffeehouse is a great perk.

  92. David Marjanović says:

    Sachertorte: don’t bother getting the original from Sacher, you’re just paying for the name.

  93. John Cowan says:

    Sorry to disappoint you, but Austria actually has a fairly poor reputation among coffee lovers.

    Granted that I’ve never been there and don’t drink the stuff anyway, but I think “coffee snobs” would be le mot juste there. I define a coffee snob as someone who believes that Jamaica Blue is a better coffee (of its type) than Celebes Kalossi (or Sulawesi Toraja if you prefer).

    Native Austrian coffee culture reflects the state of the art ca. 1960, at best. Italy is far better for the traditional espresso/cappuccino drinker.

    Those are based on the naive notion that if you burn your beans almost, but not quite, to charcoal, you have somehow increased the caffeine level.

  94. No, some people (including me) simply like the taste.

  95. AJP Crown says:

    I had my only real Sachertorte from a Viennese cousin who brought it over to London in his backpack in 1966 so my info is possibly out of date but it was the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. I’m sorry about the croissants. I like to think of them being baked at the gates of Vienna in 16something. The topfenstrudel sounds good, I like quark. I had a very dry Linzertorte a while ago, made by an old Austrian lady and I could easily believe it was the oldest cake in the world, at least my slice was.

  96. David: you mean other places have better Sachertorte, or just don’t charge double?

  97. I had an excellent dessert in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1997, but I no longer remember what it was (Mozart balls?).

  98. David Marjanović says:

    16something

    1683.

    or just don’t charge double?

    That. The real thing isn’t better, or much different at all, than the versions my mother and my grandmother make. It just has a chocolate seal with a Sacher stamp on it.

  99. Apparently vegetables cause labiodentals. [via LLog]

  100. David Eddyshaw says:

    In my case, certainly. Except I didn’t yet know that word when I was still of an age to be made to eat my vegetables.

    Vitamin C is for the weak.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    Vitamin C is present in sufficient quantities in everything that is fresh. The Eskimos do not have 400 words for scurvy.

  102. John Cowan says:

    For fresh read raw, at least when it comes to animal products. Cooking destroys it very effectively, and it was traditional Inuits’ consumption of raw meat that protected them. Also, (chicken) eggs are quite free of it, and milk has very very little.

    In addition, there is much individual variation. Tests of individual oranges (supposed by the laity to be a particularly rich source, though bell peppers have more than twice as much) showed a huge variation in C content, down to and including 0.

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    Vitamin C is also for guinea pigs.

  104. David Marjanović says:

    Cooking destroys it very effectively […] milk has very very little

    In that case I have to wonder where I’m getting mine from: no raw meat, no raw vegetables, no fruit or even lemonades, rarely things like cookies where vitamin C is added as an antioxidant, no supplements, and milk and flour aren’t fortified over here.

  105. Cooking reduces vitamin C but doesn’t eliminate it.

  106. John Cowan says:

    Cooking vegetables reduces their vitamin C by about 30%, but in meat much more drastically. So eating cooked veg is sufficient.

  107. john welch says:

    With Henry VIII at the top of the food chain he was not answerable to his subjects but to God only. _ BBC TV.

  108. john welch says:

    He let them eat cake and vegetables and his half-baked metaphor had headless wives in poor taste at pig-headed banquets with apples smothered in surfeit of lampreys.

  109. AJP Crown says:

    A surfeit of lampreys is Henry I.

  110. ktschwarz says:

    Let me take a turn at interpreting why people say “the sky isn’t really blue, it just appears blue”. They’re trying to say that UNLIKE A TOMATO, the air doesn’t absorb blue any differently than other colors. Almost all the colors that you see on solids and liquids are due to preferential absorption of some bands of frequencies, with the energy then dissipated via intermolecular interactions rather than EM re-radiation. You can scan the absorption spectrum of a tomato and find that blue is absorbed, red isn’t. You can’t with nitrogen gas, it’s transparent. You can with oxygen, which is why Brett said that it “really is blue”, although it’s too weak to detect with our eyes.

    Physicists make a big deal of this because the bias toward high-frequency scattering in the air is a completely different process than quantum absorption: Rayleigh explained it with 19th century physics, but tomato color couldn’t be explained until quantum mechanics. (In fact, the pattern of absorption lines in hydrogen gas was one of the main stimuli to the development of quantum mechanics.)

    I think John is going down the wrong track with the question of what’s an object. Bird feathers are objects, but you do indeed find people saying “blue birds aren’t blue”, because they don’t have blue pigment but instead reflect blue via an interference effect. Eyes are objects, but people do say “there’s no such thing as blue eyes”. Those are clickbait headlines, and so is “sky isn’t blue”. They all mean “I’m saying something paradoxical to grab your attention! Now let me tell you how these ‘blues’ all have different origins.”

    I hope this makes some contribution! Optics was my favorite class to TA.

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