Sforim or seyfers?

Alex Foreman has a Facebook post on an interesting issue that hadn’t occurred to me:

Has someone written about the markedness of use or non-use of Hebrew and Arabic plurals on loanwords in Jewish English and Muslim English in the US?

What I mean is that, among a certain subset of Jews, it is common to refer to a religious book in Hebrew or Aramaic using the loan séyfer. For people who do this, there seem to exist two plurals: the loan “sfórim”/”sfarím” and the assimilatory English “seyfers”. I’m wondering if someone has written about what triggers each option and what’s involved. Perhaps done statistical studies based on recorded conversations?

I’d be equally interested in similar work on the same phenomenon in Muslim English. For the loan “masjid” (mosque) both the native English plural “masjids” and the Arabic transfixational plural “masājid” seem to be available to English-speaking Muslims. As is the double-marked “masājids”.

I imagine rozele will have something to say about this…


  1. Oh, and this response by Woody Rosenberg is also interesting:

    It seems to vary from word to word. In liberal circles, for examples, “sfarim” is strongly preferred over “sefers” (many would say that the latter sounds childish), but “seders” is more common than “sdarim” (many perceive the latter to be a fancier, “learnèd” form).

  2. Yes, I argued with my thesis advisor in the UK about this. I kept insisting on writing “Yeshivas” and he kept saying it should be “Yeshivot.” I argued that if you want to use Hebrew, then as an Ashkenazi, I should write “Yeshivos.” He somehow decided that since I’m American it’s acceptable to write “Yeshivas,” but if I was British, he would have insisted on me writing “Yeshivot.” Weird.

  3. Weird indeed!

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Now I’m curious as to whether people who know just enough of a Semitic language to be dangerous but not enough to be correct create bogus (from the original language’s perspective) plurals akin to octopus/octopi?

  5. John Cowan says

    He somehow decided that since I’m American it’s acceptable to write “Yeshivas,” but if I was British, he would have insisted on me writing “Yeshivot.”

    Translation: ” When it comes to Us, We write yeshivot and I can enforce that, but I am compelled by policy of some sort to accept barbarous dialect from Americans,”

  6. Michael Hendry says

    Sometimes shades of meaning make all the difference in which ending is correct. Awe-inspiring high-ranking angels in the Bible are Seraphim and Cherubim, but fat naked wingèd babies in religious art are small-c cherubs, as are fat clothed wingless babies in everyday life. Exceptions on either side may exist, but I suspect they will be quite rare.

    As fpr JWB’s 11:41am question:
    As Gelett Burgess famously wrote, “I’ve never seen a purple cow, and never hope to see one.” I’m in the same position with the words Thronim, Dominionim, Powerim, and Archangelim for other ranks of angels. And I just checked DuckDuckGo and got zero hits for any of the four, which was a relief. Perhaps other words are more susceptible. Could a preacher say or write “The cities of [pick a morally depraved region] are all a bunch of Sodomim and Gomorrahim!”? Again, I’m glad to see that DuckDuckGo reports no instances of either form, though both are presumably Hebrew names.

    Finally, I note that the same issue comes up with Greek and Latin plurals. Some words seem equally correct either way, at least to me: ‘cacti’ or ‘cactuses’, ‘fungi’ or ‘funguses’. Some are always Grecolatinate because they would sound too ugly Anglicized. No one is likely to prefer ‘synthesises’ to ‘syntheses’ or ‘analysises’ to ‘analyses’. (I do like to tease musicians who say ‘cellos’ and ‘concertos’ by asking if they eat ‘broccolos’ and ‘zucchinos’ and ‘fettucinas’ and ‘raviolos’.) But I’m sure the non-Hebrew examples have been covered at LanguageHat many times.

  7. I think JWB was talking not about adding Hebrew endings to random words like “Power” but about using the wrong Semitic plurals for Semitic nouns (cf. octopus/octopi), e.g. thinking the plural of sefer was, say, seferot.

  8. John Cowan says

    I do like to tease musicians who say ‘cellos’ and ‘concertos’ by asking if they eat ‘broccolos’ and ‘zucchinos’ and ‘fettucinas’ and ‘raviolos’.

    They might well reply “Do you expect us to play soli?”

  9. Michael Hendry says

    Ah, thanks, LH! Yes, that is a different question, and I am in fact only vaguely aware of Hebrew plural endings other than -im. Fortunately, I’ve never been tempted to try to pluralize a Hebrew word without looking it up.
    And yes, there are a lot of Latin examples, e.g. ‘apparati’. What I find intriguing is how many English-speakers will stick -ii on the end of a word to make a supposedly Latin plural, e.g. ‘penii’ for ‘penises’ or Latin ‘penes’, or ‘virii’ for ‘viruses’ (no Latin plural). Is this all generalized from ‘radii’, the only common English noun I can think of ending in -ii? Or maybe rather from the Latin names that sometimes come up in English, e.g. Henry James, ‘The Last of the Valerii’, or history book discussions of Cornelii and Flavii and Julii and Antonii and so on.

  10. The rule of thumb is, feminine nouns end with -a in the singular (except when they don’t), singular masculines don’t end in -a (except when they do). Likewise, masculine plurals end with -im (except when they end with -ot*), and feminine plurals end with -ot* (except when they end in -im). All eight combinations are possible.

    * -os in Ashkenazi pronunciation.

    Oh, and dual body parts end in -ayim (as do some non-dual plural body parts and some other duals).

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    This looks to be a potentially interesting piece trying to understand the “mismatch” situations in Hebrew (also looking at other Semitic languages for a broader context) where the plural marker isn’t what you’d generally expect from the noun’s gender (or vice versa). But the system seems simple enough that the possibilities for misgeneralizing from a limited understanding that Latin provides don’t really seem present.


    One source on Ladino I googled up says usually the basic Spanish -s plural marker is used but some loanwords from Hebrew (“many” masc. nouns but only “some” fem. nouns) use the Hebrew plural markers. Also allegedly a “few” instances of the Hebrew plural marker(s) attaching to Romance nouns, as e.g. “ladronim” for “thieves” and “ermanim” for “brothers,” apparently in some sort of free variation side-by-side with the -s plural for the same nouns.

  12. If it hasn’t been noted here before
    is a handy source for traditional Hebrew and Aramaic, um, books.

  13. All eight combinations are possible.

    Correcting myself — make it seven. I don’t know any examples of masculine nouns with -a singular and -im plural.

  14. In Arabic, of course, with broken plurals the field is much wider.

  15. Now I’m curious as to whether people who know just enough of a Semitic language to be dangerous but not enough to be correct create bogus (from the original language’s perspective) plurals akin to octopus/octopi?

    I have an article on this sort of thing in a small Chadic language called Mubi… can’t really recommend it as a casual read though, unless you’re really into this sort of thing.

    In Persian there are a couple of examples. Deh “village” to dehât seems well-established in specific contexts. Aždar ‘dragon’ to ažâder definitely is not, but I have found very occasional instances of the latter online, presumably jocular. I’m not aware of any cases in English based on Arabic plurals, but I think we discussed shoggoth to shoggothim a while ago somewhere?

  16. Lameen : IIRC shoggoth / shoggothim is original Lovecraft, not fanfic.

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    An important point that the referent of “shoggoth” may be eldritch and insanity-inducing and beyond comprehension in any usual human categories, but considered as a Hebrew noun it’s gotta be either masc. or fem. with no morphosyntactic option to transcend such puny mortal limitations.

  18. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Michael Hendry:

    I do like to tease musicians who say ‘cellos’ and ‘concertos’ by asking if they eat ‘broccolos’ and ‘zucchinos’ and ‘fettucinas’ and ‘raviolos’.

    English (or sometimes more precisely American) food names derived from Italian are mostly the opposite of concertos. One cured sausage is un salame in Italian but a salami in English. I believe the same goes for zucchini, setting aside that in Italian we have both the masculine (uno zucchino, due zucchini) and the feminine (una zucchina, due zucchine). I’m not sure about spaghetti and fettuccine — I suspect those are mass nouns for most English speakers.

    On the other hand, do you eat a couple of pizze? I don’t think I’ve encountered before any native English speaker who does. I suspect that will make you even less popular in New York City than eating them with knife and fork, though perhaps doing both things is less frowned upon than either one alone.

    Going back to music, I should think the only possible plural of cello is cellos because the word doesn’t exist in Italian: it’s always un violoncello, due violoncelli.

    What I find intriguing is how many English-speakers will stick -ii on the end of a word to make a supposedly Latin plural, e.g. ‘penii’ for ‘penises’ or Latin ‘penes’, or ‘virii’ for ‘viruses’ (no Latin plural). Is this all generalized from ‘radii’, the only common English noun I can think of ending in -ii?

    Presumably because English-speakers are most exposed to masculine Latin nouns of the second declension, like radius?

    The mistake is particularly natural for virus, which is indeed a second-declension noun, albeit both irregular and neuter — whence the educated biologist’s non-classical Latin plural vira. I also doubt that traditional English pronunciation has much if any distinction between penis and penus — another fiendishly irregular word whose plural can be second-declension penī, third-declension penora or fourth-declension penūs.

    I don’t feel I can cast aspersions on the doubling of the final i, which is incorrect Latin spelling but points to correct Latin pronunciation. The normative plurals are, after all, penī and virī — though they are plurals of penus and vir, not penis and virus.

  19. Shoggoth is presumably the plural of shoggah, the minimal unit (cell?) into which shoggoths can divide. Shoggothim is thus a double plural, combining masculine and feminine in order to respect their non-binary identity. Anyone travelling to Antarctica is advised to use it even in reference to a singular shoggoth; the pluralis majestatis may placate them sufficiently that they refrain from showing themselves.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Oh, and dual body parts end in -ayim (as do some non-dual plural body parts and some other duals).

    For example Upper + Lower Egypt.

    In Arabic, of course, with broken plurals the field is much wider.

    The plural-breaking mountains of Oman or perhaps Mountains of Madness.

  21. David Marjanović says

    On the other hand, do you eat a couple of pizze? I don’t think I’ve encountered before any native English speaker who does.

    Part of the reason may actually be that that wasn’t even possible in English before Lisa Simpson said meh.

    Pizzen is popular in German, BTW.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Somali nouns typically switch gender in the plural, and I have seen it suggested that this was an old AA feature, and that e.g. Hebrew -ot for fathers and -im for mothers is thus some sort of archaism.

    I don’t think this idea was received with much favour though, and even I can think of some obvious problems with it. I don’t recall how the proposal explained the fact that most Semitic sound plurals don’t do that, but I suppose you could explain it as substantive nouns being conformed to the pattern of adjectives. (That seems to be how Hausa has ended up with nearly all feminine nouns ending in -a: I gather that even in proto-West Chadic, nouns had no explicit gender marking, and the idea is that this spread from adjectives to nouns.)

    But then you need to assume parallel developments in Egyptian and Berber too …

  23. -im for mothers

    Huh? Sg. אֵם ʼēm, pl. אִמָּהוֹת ʼimmāhôṯ.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. When I say “mothers”, I mean “years.” A natural confusion.
    (I got carried away by parallelism.)

  25. i don’t think the /-s/ in “séyfers” is a yiddish ־ות. if that were what’s going on, it would be “sfóros” – with the vowel and stress shifted as appropriate for the yiddish plural (properly “sfórem”). i think this is pretty clearly the use of an english pluralizing suffix with a yiddish singular – the same as with “gónifs” or “mávens” [“a” pronounced with /ej/, of course], whose yiddish plurals are “ganóvem” and “mevónem”.

    to me, it’s a version of the same (actively productive) process that gives yiddish words like “khutspedik” or “bokhershaft”, whose spellings [in YIVO/schaechter standard] show off their combinations of loshn-koydesh root and germanic suffix: חוצפּהדיק, בחורשאַפֿט.

    i think the alternation between “sfórem” and “séyfers” is likely to be based mostly on the language of reference in the topic: i can imagine someone saying “i went over to mikhl’s to pick up that box of seyfers he wanted to donate to the reading room, and you know him, i thought it would be all responsa and mesholem, but i found a copy of the sidur ha-kavones in there, which i never thought would be among his sfórem”.

    but “sfarím” is another kettle of fish entirely. in yiddish-lineage jewish communities – the only places where you’d hear “séyfers” – anything with that kind of final stress (and fronting on the earlier vowel) is quite specifically (consciously or not) marking a rejection of traditional hebrew pronunciation in favor of an ivrit-based one, and more broadly of yiddish as opposed to ivrit and of rootedness in diasporic communities as opposed to zionism. so i would be quite surprised to hear a person who uses “sfarím” alternate it with “séyfers” – or even say “ספֿר” with /ej/ rather than /ɛ/. the exceptions i can imagine are folks in certain traditionalist/ish religious contexts like ChaBaD where yiddish is present in combination with rabid zionism, leading to all kinds of odd linguistic things.

    and, finally, i wonder if RCK’s advisor was implicitly making some kind of minhag-based distinction, in which the u.k. has a (nominal) centralized jewish authority which can insist on a zionist pronunciation, but someone the u.s. need not be bound by that ruling.

  26. i think this is pretty clearly the use of an english pluralizing suffix with a yiddish singular – the same as with “gónifs” or “mávens”

    Well, yes; the original post says explicitly “the assimilatory English ‘seyfers’.”

  27. While most anglophones say panini/paninis sng/pl, some say panino/panini and some panini/panini.

    The rule for Irish-language nouns used officially in English is, use the Irish plural if you personally are fluent enough to know how, otherwise add -s and few people will care. Even if you know the plural of Seanad is Seanaid, you may struggle to pronounce the difference.

  28. @Lameen: Shoggothim came up on Language Log last week. The faux-Hebrew plural was traced to a story Charles Stross.

  29. Keith Ivey says
  30. possibly pushed by RCK’s comment, i was taking “assimilatory English” to mean an effect from english pushing the yiddish towards using the ‘wrong’ hebrew plural. i hope the rest of my comment was less unnecessary!

  31. John Cowan says

    IIRC shoggoth / shoggothim is original Lovecraft, not fanfic.

    Naah. See the LLog link just above, and a search on hplovecraft.com, which has all the fiction and poetry, does not turn up shoggothim anywhere.

    See also Ogden Nash’s 1933 poem “Kindly Unhitch That Star, Buddy”, which begins:

    I hardly suppose I know anybody who wouldn’t rather be a success
    than a failure,
    Just as I suppose every piece of crabgrass in the garden
    would much rather be an azalea,
    And in celestial circles all the run-of-the-mill angels
    would rather be archangels or at least cherubim and seraphim,
    And in the legal world all the little process-servers hope
    to grow up into great big bailiffim and sheriffim.

    Of course archangels are in the second choir just above angels, whereas cherubim and seraphim are in the eighth and ninth choirs.

  32. @Giacomo, Russian edible Italian is usually -i.

    But: makarony – the usual word for pasta, it’s being replaced with pasta (from English I assume….) right now. A few years ago pasta was an exotic word, now people buy and book it…
    It has hard /n/ and, accordingly, a back vowel.

    Both spaghetti and makarony look like Russian plurals, yet the singular will be formed with a singulative suffix (makaronina).

  33. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Yay, Russian! If there are any words that deserve singulative forms, it would be the various types of pasta (possibly excepting the flat sheets for lasagna which you do apply one by one, but AFAIK they don’t have a name of their own), Wiktionary sensibly marks It spaghetto as “rare, prescriptive”.

    What do our overlordsthe Welsh do?

  34. January First-of-May says

    Indeed. When I say “mothers”, I mean “years.” A natural confusion.
    (I got carried away by parallelism.)

    Also words and bricks; I wouldn’t have thought of the word for bricks, in particular, as possibly being a proto-Afro-Asiatic retention, but apparently the technology (at least in its mud-brick version) is easily old enough in the area.

    (There are apparently cognates all over Semitic, but Wiktionary doesn’t mention any cognates elsewhere in Afro-Asiatic.)

  35. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Lars Mathiesen:

    Yes, pasta shapes would be very deserving of a singulative form in English, and it’s a pity none exists.

    No, English-language Wiktionary is not being sensible in marking singular spaghetto as “rare, prescriptive.” It’s certainly rare in English, but I doubt it’s prescriptive in that language.

    It’s perfectly natural in Italian, and accordingly unmarked in Italian-language Wiktionary. Surely it’s an infrequently used form because the need to speak of a single strand of spaghetti arises infrequently. But I don’t think that’s enough to mark a word as “rare” in the dictionary.

    I’m quite confident all Italians, like me, find it wholly unremarkable to speak of uno spaghetto or un maccherone when the occasion calls for it.

    For me, subjectively, the singular only starts being remarkable when dealing with pasta shapes whose name also means something else. E.g., penne means identically feathers, pens and penne pasta. In the plural, the word is so common in all three meanings that it triggers no recollection that the food is named after the writing tool which in turn is named after the bird appendage. Instrad, if I have to talk about one piece of pasta it’ll still be una penna, but that unavoidably brings quills to mind and the effect is a bit jarring. I find it equally weird to see the rare package of penne labeled in English as “pasta quills.”

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    I have a vague sense that when I was a boy (mass noun) “pasta” was still understood by many AmEng speakers as a vaguely exotic and foreign-ish subset of the more common foodstuff (count noun) “noodles,” making the singular “noodle” potentially available in lieu of a singulative. But this no longer feels right after the passage of decades and the fuller domestication of pasta.

  37. I pretty much think of “noodles” only in the context of “egg noodles,” and this website fits that understanding.

  38. Yes, I don’t think we used the word “pasta” in the ’70s, but then I don’t think we encountered any varieties besides spaghetti and macaroni (Kraft). There were of course chicken noodle soup, and casseroles made with egg noodles, but those had no Italian connection. I would not have used “noodle” for a piece of macaroni, nor would I apply it today to penne or farfalle or anything else that’s not relatively long.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    Quoth the article hat linked to: “In fact, many people refer to long pasta shapes as noodles.” I guess that excludes referring to a piece of macaroni that way, but again my perhaps-flawed memory is that it would not have struck me as odd to hear a piece of macaroni so described (by a generic AmEng speaker) in 1975 but it would strike me as odd now.

  40. David Eddyshaw says

    What do our overlordsthe Welsh do?

    Sadly, it’s just sbageti, used as a mass/plural as in English.

    In a better world, it would of course be ysbaged, with the singulative ysbageden.

    In fact, though, synchronically. pairs like derwen “oak”, derw “oaks” just function as singular and plural. I think the statements to the contrary one often comes across are just based on the perennial confusion between form and function. I’m not clear about previous phases of the language, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it applied there too. It may have something to do with analysing the Welsh through the prism of languages like English, in which dropping part of a word to form the plural seems so bizarre that it needs a fancy explanation. Subtractive morphology for the Win!


    Note the striking absence of Welsh, presumably regarded as more obscure than Alabama …

    Despite what the WP article claims, I don’t think this phenomenon is all that rare at all. It turns up pretty often as a result of historical changes zapping original final syllables, for example. It seems rare, because it gets misanalysed away by linguists who find it ideologically objectionable.

    (Actually, I just came across a whole conjugation of Miyobe verbs that drop the final stem consonant to make the perfective, e.g. “send”: verbal noun (pi)tumɛ, imperfective tum, perfective tu, where the root is without question from proto-Volta-Congo *tʊm-, as in Kusaal tʋm “send” and Swahili mtume “messenger, apostle.”)

  41. John Cowan says

    I don’t think we used the word “pasta” in the ’70s

    Unfortunately, the OED entry has no quotations between 1934 and 2000; all the earlier ones are in strongly Italian contexts, many of them italicized as foreign words. We can only hope the word will be revised again someday.

  42. If you do a Google Books search with an end date of 1980, you find that it starts appearing regularly in the ’70s; the earliest non-specialist use I’ve seen (on a cursory look) is on p. 66 of the May 2, 1969, issue of Life, in a recipe headed “Pasta with Lobster and Shrimp.” (Oddly, the recipe simply calls for “pasta,” no further specification, and says it should be al dente in eight minutes. The sixties, man…)

  43. Keith Ivey says

    On the page I’m seeing, the recipe title uses “pasta”, but both the ingredient list and the recipe text say “spaghetti”.

  44. Oops, you’re right — I didn’t look far enough down the page. Apologies to Life (now no longer alive)…

  45. Dean Martin was singing about pasta fazool in 1953.

  46. J.W. Brewer says

    I frankly do not have a reliable memory of the extent to which I did or didn’t ever see/hear the word “pasta” back in the Seventies. My claim is only that to the extent the word was in circulation it was still sort of marked as foreign/exotic in most AmEng contexts unless perhaps you were some sort of foodie/hipster whose whole thing was acting as if lexemes that not everyone knew were unremarkable and second-hand to you. You would have been at least modestly surprised if a random A&P employee said “yeah, the pasta’s all in aisle 4.” Things subsequently changed.

  47. That matches my memory.

  48. Keith Ivey says

    I agree, and “pasta fazool” is irrelevant to that.

  49. I associate pasta with the ascent of the yuppies in the ’80s, along with the iconic quiche.

  50. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    It seems relevant to cite the two editions of The Joy of Cooking on my bookshelves.

    The first is by Irma S. Rombauer. It opens with a “Preface to the 1943 Edition,” has 1946 as its latest copyright date, and was dedicated to its first owner in 1949. It has a chapter on “Spaghetti, Macaroni, Noodles, etc.” whose opening is shocking in too many ways to count for an Italian reader. It also quickly replaces “etc.” with “creamettes,” a foodstuff I’ve never heard of and I shudder to be acquainted with. It does not discernibly include the word pasta anywhere.

    My second edition is mainly by Marion Rombauer Becker, though her mother remains on the masthead too. It has 1975 as its latest copyright date and a first printing of May 1975, though mine appears to be the sixteenth printing of February 1980. It has a chapter on “Cereals and Pastas” whose ideas are not altogether shocking (e g., recommended boiling times have gone from 20 to 8-10 minutes). The basic entry is “Boiled Noodles, Spaghetti, Macaroni and Other Pastas.”

    Americans can correct me, but I was led to believe The Joy of Cooking always was the most mainstream of cookbooks, which would imply that pasta was an exotic and misunderstood food in 1946, but had been already assimilated by 1975.

  51. When I grew up, macaroni were like spaghetti, only thicker, with a thin hole running down their length. I don’t remember seeing the elbow noodles called macaroni in the U.S.

  52. Keith Ivey says

    When did you grow up, Y? Did you have “macaroni and cheese” made with something like bucatini? Certainly in the ’70s Kraft macaroni and cheese was straight, but it was much shorter than spaghetti. And I think homemade macaroni and cheese would almost always use elbow macaroni. I don’t know how available small straight tubes of pasta with flat ends would have been outside of Kraft kits.

  53. In Israel. Bucatini are pretty much what we called macaroni. I don’t remember it ever served with cheese sauce. It was cheap like spaghetti and eaten like it, bolognese-style, or, if you were poor, with ketchup, or with breadcrumbs and butter or margarine.

  54. Keith Ivey says

    Oh, sorry, I was confused by the reference to the US at the end.

    Bucatini became a thing for a while in the US in 2020 when there was a NY Times recipe using them and they became hard to get (not that they were necessarily easy to find before the shortage).

  55. J.W. Brewer says

    I would probably not ask my mother outright if Mrs. Becker’s 1975 reworking of her mother’s cookbook was maybe just a teeny bit avant-garde or aspirational rather than reflecting the actual workaday cookery practice of my mother and her peers, but I suspect it might have been?

    Of course if my mother didn’t feel like cooking from scratch she could serve me and my brother unglamorous canned pasta dishes sold under the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-American_(brand) trademark. There was nothing the least bit French about them (I don’t know the backstory of the trademark), and more authentic Italian-Americans would presumably have disowned them, but they were clearly of vaguely Italian origin but by the Seventies completely assimilated to the sort of Normal-American culture described pejoratively by its more “ethnic” critics as “whitebread.”

  56. J.W. Brewer says

    Although if you really want an unvarnished look at pre-post-modern American cooking practices, you don’t want one of those nationally-marketed cookbooks, you want a recipe collection put out to raise money for some do-gooder charity that compiles recipes contributed by the respectable womenfolk of a particular small-to-medium-sized city. I have a copy of this one (a much earlier than ’97 edition): https://www.amazon.com/Pines-Plantations-Recipes-Thomasville-Georgia/dp/0960786007. The recipes are all attributed to Mrs. HUSBANDSFIRSTNAME SURNAME. Some of them require such-and-such fluid ounces of Coca-Cola as an ingredient in a sauce or marinade. Others require game animals which it is assumed the cook’s husband will have gone out and shot since you can’t reliably buy them from the butcher. It’s glorious. I haven’t gone downstairs to seek out my copy to see what sort of pasta-related dishes it contains, but the mind boggles at the mere thought.

  57. John Cowan says

    recommended boiling times have gone from 20 to 8-10 minutes

    I still do boil pasta (usually angel-hair) for 20 minutes, i.e. stracotto, unless of course it is fresh. As far as I am concerned, it is a matter of taste and nothing else.

    I don’t know the backstory of the trademark

    As it says at your own link, the Franco-American Food Company was founded by Alphonse Biardot in 1886; it was bought by the Campbell’s Soup Company in 1915. The only remaining products sold under the Franco-American name are canned gravies.

  58. David Marjanović says

    All the angelhair pasta* I’ve experienced turns into one gelatinous mass in less than 20 min…

    * Fadennudeln. Important in the higher-falutin’ kinds of soup – definitely not al dente, but still countable.

  59. “I still do boil pasta (usually angel-hair) for 20 minutes”

    Where, oh where is the Spanish Inquisition when you need them?

  60. Mushy angel hair is its own punishment. Far worse than the comfy chair.

  61. J.W. Brewer says

    This is the same John Cowan who is professedly incapable of consuming whiskey or coffee without discomfort. He obviously suffers from some sort of medical or quasi-medical condition(s) impeding normal adult patterns of food and beverage intake that we should pity rather than condemn. If you are the right sort of potential defendant, you may have an affirmative legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to boil pasta intended for him until it reaches the level of mushiness he can tolerate. It’s not a punishment, it’s an accommodation.

  62. John Cowan says

    Perhaps twenty minutes is an exaggeration: I cook it until done, not using a timer. But I wouldn’t call it mushy, just soft.

  63. John Cowan says

    He obviously suffers from some sort of medical or quasi-medical condition(s) impeding normal adult patterns of food and beverage intake

    Coffee and whisky (and likewise tobacco) are things people consume because (a) they have directly medicinal effects, and/or (b) they are things adults consume, and they wish to act like, or seem to be, adults. For me, (a) doesn’t apply because the side effects, particularly addiction, massively outweigh the effects, and (b) doesn’t apply because I don’t give a red rubber rat’s ass about that kind of peer pressure and I never have.

    that we should pity rather than condemn

    I’ll take option 3, Monty.

    But let us consider olives. I didn’t grow up eating olives, and they are what people call an acquired taste. But for me the question is: why would you want to acquire an unpleasant taste? As far as I understand it, the theory is that if you force yourself to eat olives for long enough, eventually you will come to enjoy them. Then again, if I ran a needle through my lip every day, I might come to enjoy that too. But why even try?

    It’s not a punishment, it’s an accommodation.

    Since the side effects of coffee and tea elevate my blood sugar dangerously, what I’d like is an accommodation for dozing off at work, especially since I normally wake up very quickly. Unfortunately, employers tend to find this unacceptable when I’m working in an office. I can’t serve on a jury for the same reason, but at least I don’t try to make a living at $40 a day (in NYC).

  64. Stu Clayton says

    My favorite angel hair pasta brand De Cecco states to cook the angel hair pasta for 2 minutes. This is really quick cooking I know but I will drain the pasta after about 1 minute.

    20 minutes a typo for 2 ? We now have at least three ways to account for the ambiguity (?): typographical, inquisitorial and charitable. The ambiguity has been exacerbated by uncertainty.

    A monkey in a cage can see freedom through the bars. That’s why he rattles them from time to time. But there is no escape from ambiguity.

  65. John Cowan says

    I don’t know what you mean by ambiguity. I made a mistake in saying 20 (De Cecco is my favorite brand too). How long to cook pasta for is like how much salt to add: a matter of taste, as I said above.

  66. Stu Clayton says

    I don’t know what you mean by ambiguity.

    See ? Even ambiguity is an ambiguous notion.

  67. For me, Nudeln is the general category of which Pasta is a subset (Italian style noodles / noodle dishes). I guess that’s similar for other Germans of my age cohort.

  68. PlasticPaddy says

    Are Spätzle “Nudeln” for you? Or are they another member of the “something to absorb the sauce” group alongside Nudeln, Kartoffelbrei (bzw. Pommes oder Bratkartoffeln) and Butterreis?

  69. Stu Clayton says

    Kartoffelbrei (bzw. Pommes oder Bratkartoffeln)

    Bratkartoffeln do not readily absorb anything, since they are already full of oil and themselves. Pellkartoffeln can be mashed and so allow more sauce to cling to them. Pommes lose their virtue when mashed, Spätzle too.

    It’s mostly about sauce transport technology anyway, not absorbents, even in the case of Stampf and sauce stirred together.

  70. Are gnocchi considered pasta in Italy?

  71. Stu Clayton says

    They are pasta “for all intents and purposes”, sez here. Of course citing an encyclopedia (which one here?) is a weak move, just as is referring to a dictionary to “establish” the meaning of a word.

    L’enciclopedia definisci gli gnocchi come pasta.

    Nonostante abbiano una consistenza molto diversa dalla pasta secca e da quella fresca, gli gnocchi, visti gli ingredienti base con cui vengono prodotti, sono a tutti gli effetti un tipo di pasta.

  72. Compare their stern words elsewhere:

    I noodles sono pasta?

    I noodles non sono pasta.

    I passatelli sono pasta?

    I passatelli non sono pasta.

    And yet, Wikipedia: “Passatelli are a pasta…”

  73. Stu Clayton says

    It’s clearly a subject into which furriners stick their nose at the risk of having it broken.

  74. John Cowan says

    Your Wikipedia evidence doesn’t amount to much: passatelli may well be describable by English pasta but not by Italian pasta.

  75. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    In Italy, gnocchi are pasta for tax purposes because they fall under the Harmonized System code 1902 Pasta, whether or not cooked or stuffed (with meat or other substances) or otherwise prepared, such as spaghetti, macaroni, noodles, lasagne, gnocchi, ravioli, cannelloni; couscous, whether or not prepared. This classification is binding at the EU level for international trade. Italy also uses it as the basis for purely domestic taxation, and thereby grants gnocchi the 4% VAT rate that pasta is entitled to.

    On the other hand, I doubt it would be advisable to call gnocchi “pasta” anywhere on a package for sale in Italy, because it seems unlikely they satisfy the legal requirements for that (DPR 9 February 2001, n. 187).

    I’d say this legal ambiguity reflects the broader understanding that there is pasta stricto sensu, made from rolled dough, and pasta lato sensu, made with other methods, including gnocchi and passatelli. Hence, the classification seems a perfect question to incite quarrels between the Italians who absolutely do and those who absolutely do not include some item in their definition of pasta. I’d be surprised if either set were empty. Conversely, I don’t much mind either way myself. However, I find that if I don’t consider both gnocchi and passatelli to be pasta lato sensu I lack another category combining them, and that’s inconvenient.

  76. @hans
    Are Spätzle “Nudeln” for you?

    They are. But I’m not from Spätzle country, where perhaps they see things differently; I wouldn’t know.

  77. J.W. Brewer says

    At coffee hour after the Liturgy this past Sunday at church the main dish was a big batch of παστίτσιο, prepared by one of our ethnic-Greek parishioners. Quoth wikipedia:

    ‘Pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, a large family of baked savory pies that may be based on meat, fish, or pasta, with many documented recipes from the early 16th century …

    ‘The word pasticcio is attested by the 16th century as “any manner of pastie or pye” and comes from the vulgar Latin word pastīcium derived from pasta, and means “pie”, and has developed the figurative meanings of “a mess”, “a tough situation”, or a pastiche.’

    That said, is it a pasta/noodles dish? It’s sort of like lasagna – a casserole where pasta/noodles are one key ingredient but there’s enough other stuff (plus baking) that it has a notably different vibe from pasta-plus-sauce/gravy-with-chunks-of-something-in-it.

  78. John Cowan : I read the Charile Stross short story a long time ago and internalized it as canon, sorry, shoggothim. Spätzle is Nudeln in my idiolect.

  79. It was only very recently that I noticed that the creator of the death knight, githyanki, githzerai, and slaad monsters featured in the Fiend Folio was a then-teenaged Charles Stross.

  80. Are you going to Worldcon? I’m considering going to it but apparently Lukyanenko will be invited so I’m not sure. I’d like to visit Glasgow.

  81. Lars Mathiesen says

    I was there for 53 and it would be fun to go again, but August is usually pretty full for me so I doubt it. Also I might prefer a location where I don’t need a clean passport. (Not that there’s anything fun in mine just now–Corona scuttled my Piterburg plans in 2020–but it’s the principle).

  82. Also I might prefer a location where I don’t need a clean passport.

    What does “a clean passport” mean? Surely not one that’s never been used?

  83. J.W. Brewer says

    I believe that by “clean” Lars means “one that does not have a stamp showing travel to country X” in a context where country Y may deny entry to those who can’t be bothered to conceal their prior travel to country X. The U.S. State Dep’t will upon a credible showing issue multiple simultaneously valid passports to people who plausibly need to travel to both X and Y. Traditionally X was often Israel and Y one of various hostile-to-Israel states elsewhere in the Middle East, but there can be other combinations. I am not interested in knowing enough about the worldwide doings of aging SF enthusiasts to be able to deduce the combination that might concern Lars.

  84. Hey, I’m not aging, I’m gracefully deprecating.

  85. David Eddyshaw says

    One my one visit to to Soviet Union*, in 1974, I had to get official stamps at every turn, but they didn’t actually stamp them in my passport, but in sort of leaflet placed inside it.

    I had to explain in about 1996 why I needed my passport renewed, to UK officials who pointed out that it had years of validity left: it was completely full of official stamps, from regular Ghana/Burkina and Ghana/Togo border crossings. (And Ghana-Burkina-Niger-Nigeria crossings too: I only did that overland trip once, but it took up six whole pages …)

    * I’m never going back.

  86. Stu Clayton says

    I’m gracefully deprecating

    I’ll deprecate that with as much grace as I can muster. I have this back-burner peeve about the distinction between “deprecate” and “depreciate”. According to this peeve, what YOU SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN is “I’m gracefully depreciating”. Deprecation is graceful, or it is nothing. Depreciation is a tax dodge.

  87. I used to have a peeve about that, but like Baron Charlus, I’ve aged out of some of my deprecations.

  88. Stu Clayton says

    Yeah, I don’t care much about it one way or the other. My mentioning it is more like Lyndon Johnson showing off his scar. [Just over 58 years ago, on October 20 1965]

  89. I’ve also aged out of my frothing hatred of LBJ. The subsequent parade of horribles has shown just how pipsqueak a Wicked Villain he was. (Not that I approve of him, mind you, but things got far, far worse.)

  90. J.W. Brewer says

    Surely the wisdom that might come with age is not even so much comparing LBJ to his various successors but realizing he was not nearly so different from his immediate predecessor as Camelot-mythos court historians and their shills in the press might have led the impressionable young people of the day to believe?

  91. No, it’s much more comparing LBJ to his various successors. His predecessor, however overhyped, is neither here nor there.

  92. Stu Clayton : I was actually doubting whether to type deprecating or depreciating. Sorry.

  93. John Cowan says

    A. P. Herbert, that assiduous publisher of misleading cases in the common law, proposed a new multi-party treaty with three clauses, basically saying ‘A passport is a benefit to the holder, never an obligation’; ‘A passport belongs to the holder’, and ‘Stamping is a plague that should be banned.’ I think he missed the opportunity to say it should be stamped out, so I’ll say it for him.

  94. David Marjanović says

    I’ve also aged out of my frothing hatred of LBJ. The subsequent parade of horribles has shown just how pipsqueak a Wicked Villain he was. (Not that I approve of him, mind you, but things got far, far worse.)

    Johnson tripped over his johnson – he was way too involved in toxic masculinity. Without that, he might have pulled out of the Vietnam War and ended up generally decent…

  95. David Marjanović says

    This is the same John Cowan who is professedly incapable of consuming whiskey or coffee without discomfort.

    Uh, so am I. Or at least I assume so, having never tried whiskey or whisky. Coffee smells much better than it tastes, and it often smells burnt; if you’re not addicted to caffeine, you can hardly find a reason to drink it.

    For me, Nudeln is the general category of which Pasta is a subset (Italian style noodles / noodle dishes).

    Oh, interesting. I don’t have Pasta in my German vocabulary at all.

    Are Spätzle “Nudeln” for you?

    Nope! The somewhat bureaucratic cover term is Teigwaren.

    “something to absorb the sauce”


    It turns out I have the Ancient Greek approach to food: starch is food (σῖτος), meat is one of several options for seasoning the food (όψον).

  96. I don’t know my history, by my impression of Johnson, based on snippets from Robert Caro, was that he was a political bully, and a talented one, but that he was personally motivated to do good, and very knowingly committed political suicide with the Voting Rights Act. He would have been remembered favorably for that, if not for the Vietnam War. Why he did such a foolish (not to mention terrible) thing, I don’t know. Maybe when Caro finishes volume 4, someone will read it and explain it for me .

  97. Why he did such a foolish (not to mention terrible) thing, I don’t know.

    That is the Big Question. He knew it was expensive and probably useless, but my vague impression is he felt it was a legacy from JFK that he had to carry through to show he was worthy of the mantle. By the time he withdrew from the race in ’68 he certainly knew it had destroyed his reputation. But then, look at the Eternity Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even more expensive and useless. I guess that’s just what superpowers do.

  98. When I visited the LBJ Library I was taken aback by the displayed quote: “I knew from the start … If I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to get involved in that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home.” Talk about toxic masculinity! And the quote (from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography) continues: if he didn’t pursue the war, “I would be seen as a coward. … An unmanly man. A man without a spine.” He thought the “loss of Vietnam” would be politically exploited by his opponents as the “loss of China” had been by Truman’s.

  99. Exactly. Pathetic…

  100. David Marjanović says

    It’s encouraging to see how quickly cultural attitudes can change: for thousands of years (easily 6000, likely much more), men in all vaguely relevant cultures lived in constant fear of being thought cowards as a fate worse than death, and nowadays people who were young men when LBJ was president don’t even understand his attitude anymore.

  101. … don’t even understand his attitude anymore.

    Hmm? The gun-toting Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert a.m.o. seem to be perfectly au fait with and supportive of toxic masculinity. I suppose something has advanced: toxic masculinity is now gender-neutral.

  102. Stu Clayton says

    men in all vaguely relevant cultures lived in constant fear of being thought cowards as a fate worse than death

    Now they fear being accused of “toxic masculinity”, and as wise cowards leave this to the women – as AntC suggests. Since women are up to bat, its only fair to expect that they step up to the plate. With perks comes responsibility.

  103. people who were young men when LBJ was president don’t even understand his attitude anymore

    In America, people who were young men when LBJ was president, such as myself, suffered directly from this attitude.

  104. David Marjanović says

    Some people, not all!

Speak Your Mind