The Language of Menus.

Rosemary Hill’s LRB review of Menu Design in Europe: A Visual and Culinary History of Graphic Styles and Design, 1800-2000, edited by Jim Heimann (17 November 2022; archived) has a passage near the start containing various items of linguistic interest:

With an equally sweeping approach to geography, Heimann pays little attention to national cuisines within Europe, beyond acknowledging France as ‘the fountainhead’ of culinary distinction. French was the international language of food for centuries and features on menus from Spain to Scandinavia, though nowhere so much or so persistently as in Britain, where it signals a cringing sense of inferiority and the fond hope that anything described as ‘à la’ something else will sound sophisticated. Conversely when a French menu uses English it feels like an implicit snub. If France has no word for ‘pouding’ it is because it does not care to be associated with such a thing. Eighteenth-century England could boast food as good as any on the Continent, but industrialisation and depopulation of the countryside combined to fracture culinary traditions, ushering in the Victorian Age of Indigestion, when quantity had to stand for quality. It was perhaps after the Second World War and on into the early 1960s, when ingredients as well as professional cooks were in short supply, that British food reached its nadir. One sign of better and more cosmopolitan food is the gradual dwindling of menu French over time, though it lingers on in the socially aspirational world of rotary clubs, livery companies and Oxford colleges, giving birth to such chimeras as ‘dim sum de légumes avec daikon et gingembre confit’.

As physical items, menus seem to have taken permanent form only in the mid-19th century, replacing the handwritten list. Heimann has little to offer for the first decades of his period. His earliest example is a lithographed carte from the Hôtel du Commerce in Bruges. A massive baroque frame supporting a hefty cornucopia and looking unhappily like a memorial tablet surrounds the extensive list of dishes on offer for 7 February 1844. It promises to take diners through from turbot to kirsch jelly, but there are no prices. These were a surprisingly late introduction, and the first example here is from May 1906. The Carlton Restaurant in Wiesbaden, which boasted an elegant Wiener Werkstätte-inspired green and cream design, offered an all-inclusive dinner for four marks fifty, with individual plates mostly at two marks fifty, though what this meant in terms of relative expense is hard to know. The food is described in a bewildering concoction of Germano-franglais culminating in ‘Porterhousesteak à la Jardinière’, the elaboration perhaps a reflection of the price, which at eight marks made it the most expensive choice by some way.

The structure of the menu as a sequence of courses was both cause and consequence of the gradual disappearance through the 19th century of ‘French service’, in which all the dishes were presented simultaneously, and the rise of ‘Russian service’, which presented a meal in stages. This was soon felt to be more convenient for both private and public dining. The number of courses and their order varied as it still does with time and place, but the essential outline of the meal was established by the 1840s. One sad loss since then is the ‘entremet’, now almost extinct, though the menus preserve its fossil record. This civilised ‘in-between’, often a sorbet, was intended to ‘cleanse the palate’ after the main course and to prepare the digestive system for the onslaught of the grand finale. The meals themselves and their relative importance in the pattern of the day also shifted over time. The distinction between ‘dinner’, taken in the afternoon, and ‘supper’, the last, usually light, meal of the day, fades in the 19th century as dinner moves later. England enjoyed a brief moment at the forefront of gastronomic fashion around 1900 with the introduction of ‘five o’clock tea’, an Edwardian craze that soon spread abroad and was on offer in 1903 at the Casino San-Sebastian in Spain. The menus, designed in Paris, sport a heady mixture of Art Nouveau tropes – curling branches, sinuous fruit and a severe-looking woman with a harp. A later attempt by the Trocadero Grill Room in London in 1937 to imitate the success of afternoon tea with its own innovation of late dinner – to be known as ‘dinuit’ – did not catch on.

There are of course two kinds of menu, though Heimann makes no distinction between them: the restaurant or hotel menu that offers you a choice of meal for which you pay, and the set menu for a formal meal that announces like a theatre programme what you will be given. For this you might or might not pay. Some of the most elaborate menus are for such ceremonial dinners and are clearly intended to outlive the occasion and become treasured souvenirs. Edward VII, nickname ‘Tum Tum’, was a regular and enthusiastic guest of honour at these elaborate feasts. As Prince of Wales he sat down in Fishmongers’ Hall in 1865 to a ‘premier service’ of six kinds of fish and two soups. This was served – as was often the case at that time – in an intermediary form between French and Russian service where each course featured a collection of dishes, grouped by type. Given the venue the extent of seafood was to be expected but it was followed in ‘seconde service’ by venison, lamb cutlets, quails, ris d’agneau, ham, pullets and Perigord pâté, and concluded with a troisième service involving Pouding à la Windsor, one of a number of items on these menus that may puzzle the modern reader and which the text does not explain. Who knows what a Coventry Puff is, or a Fedora Pudding? Congress Tart sounds unappealing and it is unclear what the Haversnack café in London had in mind in 1966 in its offer of ‘Fruit Disc’ for 1/6d.

We discussed the issue of “tea” back in 2016. The failed “dinuit” is, of course, a combo of dinner and minuit. And I hope there were some who continued to call Edward VII “Tum Tum” after his accession — it humanizes royalty, after all.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    I can’t abide all this Frenchy nonsense of calling sheep “mutton” and pig “pork” at meals.

  2. “Fruit disc” = slice of apple, and you’ll be grateful for it, dammit.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Anglophone Menu French is (of course) a special register of English.

    Only a foreigner would (for example) commit the ghastly faux pas* of actually pronouncing it as French.

    * Also English.

  4. ‘Ow would you say “dim sum de légumes avec daikon et gingembre confit” then?

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Dim sum duh laygooms aveck die-kon eh janjamber comfy.

    (Exactly as it is written, of course.)

  6. “Day-kon”, surely (unless you’re Welsh)

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Some of us have that honour.

    (Dai-Con is also what the forthcoming gathering of fans celebrating my work will be attending. There will be badges. Festschrift, nothing.)

  8. Of course, I’ve heard both, but my usual pronunciation is DYE-kon, with the diphthong. (The daikon radish is also my favorite character in Spirited Away.)

  9. Michael Vnuk says

    The reviewer wrote:

    ‘There are of course two kinds of menu, though Heimann makes no distinction between them: the restaurant or hotel menu that offers you a choice of meal for which you pay, and the set menu for a formal meal that announces like a theatre programme what you will be given. For this you might or might not pay.’

    If the distinction is indeed not made in the book, then it is surprising. Surely the distinction would significantly affect the graphic style and design of a menu.

  10. “The Haversnack” is cute.

  11. A story was told me about my grandfather (whom I never met), who was traveling in Italy in his youth. He spoke several languages but had no Italian. At a restaurant, he came up with the clever idea of pointing at the first item in each section, so as to get some kind of a well-rounded meal. The waiter raised an eyebrow, but returned with five soups. The sections were set menus.

  12. The featured performer at Dai Con will be that famous torch singer, Gingembre Confit.

  13. “I can’t abide all this Frenchy nonsense of calling sheep “mutton” and pig “pork” at meals.”

    Russian has a dedicated suffix X-ína for X meat.

    Only recently when I saw svezhina in a dictionary (svezh- “fresh”) I realised that the word for ham, vetchiná has the same root as vetkhij “old” (a dated word for “old”, now it means something else).

  14. Ludwig Bemelmans, Grapes for Monsieur Cape (here):

    They sat down, and Madame complained, as she often did, about the fact that the menu was printed in French.
         “What is,” she asked the maître d’hôtel, “what is an escalope de veau à l’ancienne?
         He lifted his leg and with a flat hand showed her from what part of the animal the cutlet came. That was easy, but veau was difficult. He thought about the problem for a minute with many grimaces, and then smiled. He bent down, made a cute figure, and put his face close to the hat to say that he did not know the américain word for veau, but that he would try to explain.
         “You have a son, Madame?”
         “No,” she said.
         “Well, we assume you have a son, Madame.”
         “So what?”
         “You, Madame, are vache, your son is veau. Escalope de veau is a cutlet of son of cow.”
         She laughed her terrible laugh again, called for Monsieur Victor and said:
         “Fire that son of a bitch.”

  15. Lots of varied examples are to be found on eBay. Here‘s an interesting one: the only entree shared among non-veg, veg, and Euro appears to be an Indian take on gnocchi à la Parisienne.

  16. @Y, she did not say “puppy” :-/

  17. Showing meaty parts on oneself reminded me of this (turn on cc, but English translation missed some of the … juice).

  18. Elsewhere in the story, a maître d’ gets into completely different trouble with tête de veau en tortue.

  19. In Russian we have a dedicated construction po *******-sk-i (-sk- is possessive suffix, less specialised/more transparent than po -i, I was tempted not to include it) which we normally use for language names – and can use generally in the sense of “in the manner of”.

    Instead of borrowing à la we calque it.
    Conversely, in Russian I sometimes use borrowed à la as a funny way to say “in the manner of” or “in the spirit of”, “similar to”. Just not about food.
    I’m tempted to use it in English as well, and each time I wonder why no one else does and how it will be understood and perceived.

  20. Goo.., you know

  21. Ooup. I was right of course. It is po [poss. adjectival stem]-i
    That is, I could translate spaghetti alla puttanesca as спагетти по-блядски (with -sk-) but also as по-шлюшечьи or по-шлюшьи.

  22. Peter Grubtal says

    Eighteenth-century England could boast food as good as any on the Continent, but industrialisation and depopulation of the countryside combined to fracture culinary traditions

    Hmm….somewhere in Voltaire he says of England that it’s a country with one hundred religions but only one sauce.

    What was that sauce? I’d guess it was gravy.

  23. PlasticPaddy says
  24. Kate Bunting says

    I remember Congress Tarts from my childhood.

    They are similar to individual Bakewell Tarts (as distinct from Bakewell Pudding, but that’s another story.

  25. Not all world cuisines are known for kinds of liquid flavoured stuff that can be combined with food.

  26. Kate: Thanks for that, they look delicious! No explanation of the name, though…

  27. What was that sauce? I’d guess it was gravy.

    “Melted butter”. However, the quote is apocryphal.

  28. Half-baked Congress Tart history notes.
    Probably not a reference to the US Congress, but known by that name in Britain by at least Jan. 1881; possibly known relatively early in Cornwall.
    The recipe may or may not originally have included coconut.
    A suggestion of connection to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia appears ridiculous.
    Tentatively more probable is some real or pretended association with the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna.
    The Pastry Chef Handbook (2022) claimed ‘French gastronomy played a key role by contributing “a dizzying array of festivities and banquets.” ‘

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    Do any of our British hatters have sufficient personal gastronomic experience at all three of “rotary clubs, livery companies and Oxford colleges” that they can confirm or disconfirm whether all three genres of institution form a coherent set when it comes to their culinary offerings and/or their menu prose style? (My invitation to dine at Aldermanbury Square with the Worshipful Company of Brewers as an honoured guest must have been mislaid by the postman.)

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    I dined at the Garrick once (the place is currently in the news, though not, oddly, for that reason.)

    The food was horrible. I concluded that it was intended to reproduce the English public school dinner experience.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Wiener Werkstätte

    …Is that what’s known as Jugendstil in Vienna?

    (That should be the art nouveau mentioned later, too…)

  32. Stu Clayton says
  33. drasvi : “Only recently when I saw svezhina in a dictionary (svezh- “fresh”) I realised that the word for ham, vetchiná has the same root as vetkhij “old” (a dated word for “old”, now it means something else).”

    Are you sure you mean vetkhij and not vekhtij? In Bulgarian вехта книга for example means old, used, ancient book that has been read too many times and is falling apart; it’s affectionate. You can use вехт for a fire poker or an oven; or a dresser, or an item of furniture of any kind. I implies length of use and that it shows. I guess there’s metathesis somewhere there. It’s mostly used with books and furniture. As in “вехтият долап”. That sounds like a properly old-timey phrase.

  34. No, it’s ветхий. If the Bulgarian word is related, it must have undergone metathesis; the /x/ is originally a stem suffix and goes back to PIE/*s/; the word is cognate with Latin vetus.

  35. David Marjanović says

    The Werkstätte farted in the general direction of outlandish Jugendstil.

    Ah, no wonder I had never heard of it. Damnatio memoriae.

  36. Stu Clayton says

    Damnatio memoriae

    Anciently known as abolitio nominis. Erinnerung an das Vergessen.

    How to make a double-bind work for you.

  37. drasvi : “svezh- “fresh”” that was teenage slang in ’90s Bulgaria “свеж” — “cool”.

  38. I’m tempted to use it in English as well, and each time I wonder why no one else does and how it will be understood and perceived.

    I would say that it’s used and understood in English; sanctioned by the OED, even.

    As for perception, using it unironically is tricky because it maybe goes with a bygone sort of middlebrow culture. And using it ironically is hard, well, because irony is dead.

    But you can see à la variously, and not hopelessly long ago, in Flying Circus Scripts: a work by Proust (summarize), name of an haute cuisine dish (in the jungle), and some stage directions, which is the sense you’re wondering about.

  39. Are you sure you mean vetkhij and not vekhtij?

    As Hans says, the Bulgarian word has undergone metathesis; you can see all the outcomes of Proto-Slavic *vetъxъ here.

  40. That was also my hypothesis, that it underwent metathesis in Bulgarian. What I’m curious about is what it means in current Russian, because drasvi said “(a dated word for “old”, now it means something else).””

  41. Wiktionary gives this collection of English renderings: “old, dilapidated, shabby, ramshackle, decrepit, rickety.”

  42. Hm. Well yes, but in Bulgarian it has the implication of old and dilapidated but a prized possession. It has the implication of something you have managed to keep despite what has happened. You can say that someone is wearing вехти дрехи. Dilapitated clothes? But it implies that they are wearing then with dignity.

  43. @V, it normally appears in contexts where physical condition of things (clothing, housing) is discussed.

    And while it will still be making a perfect sense if you replace it with “old” (and in this sense it possibly still means “old”?) these connotations became so strong that as a child I assumed that it indicates the physical condition coming with age.
    I thought that as applied to, say, fabric it must mean it is now weak and can easily be torn.

    Only later I realised that originally it meant “old” – and perhaps still in some ways means that because as I said, it can be replaced with it.

    So… A mechanism of semantic shift without polysemy. By restricting contexts to those where two meanings are possible…. and subsequent redefinition of the meaning based on contexts.

    PS. no, not “prized”.

  44. One case where it still means “old” without any implication of dilapidation is vetxij zavet “the Old Testament”.

  45. @MMcM “But you can see à la variously, and not hopelessly long ago, in Flying Circus Scripts: a work by Proust […].”

    If you have in mind Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu ‘In Search of Lost Time’, that title does not contain the à la (‘in the manner of’) under discussed here.

    Or have I misunderstood?

  46. @Hans, yes, I wondered why (a) one of Bible books is called “of rotten wood” (b) what’s zavet.

    It’s not like when I’m leafing through my (smuggled) copy pages are getting yellow towards the beginning…

  47. Ветхий заветъ — Old Testament? The Tanakh? Like, THE завет? You don’t know the word завет?

    The Old Testament — Старият Завет.

    That’s like Orthodoxy 101, mate 😀

    Sorry, I am surprised you don’t know that much about theology.

  48. Or have I misunderstood?

    Yes, I think so.

    I literally meant that this was every use of it found there. Including direct quotations from French like the title; the menu usage, “chicken a la reine”; and uses with non-French names, “a la Duke of Edinburgh,” that was asked about.

    Mostly to save adding -Proust or something to the Google search.

  49. @MMcM, it is (in Russian) inacceptable in the formal register, it is clearly implies somewhat humorous tone, but it is useful, because it is short.
    “…….. ……ics? That is something à la formal semantics, but a way more formal”

  50. David Eddyshaw says

    There is, in the Christian term “Old Testament”, a quite definite “outmoded” sense, even for Christians who are not actual Supersessionists.

    (I avoid the term in commenting here for that very reason.)

    Mind you, the mainstream Christian position is also that the “Old Testament” remains valid.

    The Trumpolater heretics are largely non-supersessionists, a fairly recent aberration largely attributable to Dispensationalism

    a view which originated largely with that extremely odd man

    Much of the weirdness of American “Evangelical” eschatology is of this origin (feeding into their completely uncritical support for Israeli far-right ethnonationalism.)

  51. inacceptable in the formal register

    That’s an interesting question. I am pretty sure, as I indicated earlier, that it still has solid uses both ironic and unironic. We can probably accept that a formal register would normally rule out the former.

    I can imagine places where it is somehow inappropriate. But, as I try to think it through, I believe that is because almost any kind of simile, which it more or less is, would be. For example, official statements about a police-involved shooting. Or a diplomatic protest. Or maybe a job application, depending on the field.

    As far as I can tell, it’s fine in academic prose. Like New England Journal of Medicine. Or, maybe better, Yale Law Journal, where one can quickly find uses from back just after WW2 to the present.

    Maybe somebody else can think of a case that’s more obviously a prohibition based on formality of the writing.

  52. Yes, I chose “humorous” rather than “ironic”, because there is not necessarily any irony or sarcasm directed at either A or B when A is said to be à la B. But that’s the reason why I can’t imagine it in a scholarly article in Russian (I think in some situations it is still possible there: after all, some scholars do allow themselves somewhat playful tone, and in some fields they’re juggling with foreign words anyway, why not add one more?).

  53. And also it is lazy. Because as I said, one reason to use it is that it is short.

  54. Some more Russian associations:
    It is entirely normal (colloquially) to refer to the soup as pervoye “the first (neuter)” and to the hot dish combining plants and meat but not liquid as vtoroye “the second”.

    Lit. “what by us on second?”, still lit. “what do we have for the second?”
    Lit. “I won’t first” still lit. ‘”I won’t eat the first”
    But i didn’t know that it is referred to as “Russian service”.

  55. @DE, I think I already told that the difference between para-Christian discussions in English and Russian is stricking for me. Here it is usually the Gospel.

    The sight of religious gentelemen discussing what is “Jewish history” for me (which does not mean Jewish history is not interesting – but the gentlemen are religious*) and not even something interesting from the religious perspective (like Jacob wrestling with God) keeps surprising me:)

    *It is complicated, because obviously religious Jewish gentlemen can discuss much the same things and it makes some sense, because it’s also a history of God’s relations with Jewish people – but then it must be important to Christians for the same reason (God’s relations with people) – but….

  56. David Eddyshaw : John Nelson Darby and Christian Futurism — that’s fascinating. Charlie Stross, if he has not yet heard of him (and I suspect he has) would probably use him as a background character if he could fit him in The Laundry Files.

  57. J.W. Brewer says

    For a non-culinary example of something analogous to “menu French,” consider the venerable Los Angeles nightspot the, established in 1964 and supposedly named (either directly or indirectly) for a 1947-founded joint in Paris which spelled the name as “Whisky à Gogo.”

  58. I could have sworn I’d posted about “à gogo,” but it seems not

  59. J.W. Brewer says

    One fun thing about the LA place is that it slavishly adopted the French spelling (following the Great-British spelling) of “Whisky,” but that often gets ignored in practice by the club’s habitués. E.g., the great early-1969 Byrds song “Bad Night at the Whiskey” silently Americanized the spelling for purposes of writing it out on record labels and jackets, perhaps without anyone involved even realizing they were changing it.

  60. “What was that sauce? I’d guess it was gravy.”

    I’m guessing mint sauce.

    My reference is “Asterix in Britain” in which the Britons eat nothing but boiled beef in mint sauce.

  61. “Melted butter”. However, the quote is apocryphal.

    The original being, most likely, Ude here.

  62. the Britons eat nothing but boiled beef in mint sauce

    Calumny! Mint sauce is for boiled mutton. For boiled beef you want lumpy gravy.

  63. Proper gravy comes from and with a roast. One may optionally add a sauce: mint (lamb) horseradish (beef) apple (pork) or cranberry (turkey). The British also have something called bread sauce that is pointless if you have breadcrumb stuffing, the One True Stuffing.

  64. Bathrobe says

    @ drasvi

    I was surprised to see that the word is спагетти in Russian. It is шпагетти in Mongolian, and I assumed the шп- was from Russian, passed on from German.

    Looking at Wiktionary, the only languages with шп- in this word are Macedonian and Mongolian. How curious!

  65. PlasticPaddy says

    Shpágett co’a pummarola ‘ncopp

  66. The British also have something called bread sauce that is pointless …

    Smothering any food in some bland gunk, so driving out any risk of it being tasty, is the entire point of British traditional food serving.

    It wasn’t until my 20’s I discovered there was taste in Brussels Sprouts. (I agree re Stuffing, BTW. British ‘sausagemeat’ is a contradiction in terms.)

  67. A colleague once explained the secret of British cooking to me thusly: “You put the vegetables in a pot together with a stone. When the stone is boiled soft, the meal is ready.”

  68. Across the Atlantic and across the prairies, cowboy coffee is made thus: put in a pot a gallon of water, a pound of coffee, and a horseshoe. Boil over the fire until the horseshoe floats.

  69. David Eddyshaw says

    Patriotism compels me to remind the Hattery that the UK has some of the best foreign food in the entire world.

  70. Stu Clayton says

    Last time I was in London I thought it would be clever to find an Indian restaurant where only Indians intercoursed. Bingo – a very good beef vindaloo.

    A year or so later, on the same principle, I found a Chinese restaurant near the main train station in Hamburg where only Chinese convened. I ordered a bowl of noodles with steamed [unfamiliar word]. Turned out to be steamed pig entrails. I managed to get the lot down the hatch – but only as a matter of national pride. No more principles for me, thank you very much.

  71. Bathrobe says

    @ Plastic Paddy

    Nice! But I can assure you 5000% that the Mongolians did not get the pronunciation/spelling шпагетти direct from the Italians. Even the glorious tomato (помидор) came via the Russians; why would spagetti be any different?

  72. A bit of cursory googling shows that the variant шпагетти also shows up in Russian texts. Whether they are by native speakers or all by Mongolians or Russian-speakers from Germany, I can’t say. But maybe that variant exists in Russian outside the written standard and is the source of the Mongolian form.

  73. That would be my guess. Foreign borrowings are notoriously subject to distortion.

  74. PlasticPaddy says

    At risk of introducing more irrelevancy (the pronunciation Shpàgett is from a non-prestige dialect that would have a lower chance of being picked up in borrowings), I meant to say this is a non-language-specific way of handling the sp cluster (maybe in contexts, e.g., syllable onsets, where the speaker’s normal s would be z, resulting in non-euphonious zp, which is not even used in Russian at the beginning of a word).

  75. Hans, what I see of шпагетти in Runet (a very quick search) is either 1) some sort of gymnastics (??), 2) transliteration of foreign foodstuff names and 3) one verse by someone who used шп- pronunciation in their childhood and thinks that it is cool (I didn’t like the verse and don’t link it). Now that the best of Russia (in said irony tags), like a century ago, moved to Berlin we might have some adjustment…

  76. @Bathrobe: I finally got round to checking my English-Mongolian (Khalkha) dictionary (compiled by Damdinsürengiyn Altangerel, Interpress, Ulaanbaatar 1998), and it has спагетти, with “s”, not “sh”. The corresponding Mongol-English dictionary and my two-volume Russian-Mongolian and Mongolian-Russian dictionaries don’t have the word at all (I assume it wasn’t sufficiently basic lexicon for them). But when I googled for шпагетти, I got a lot of Mongolian hits. So what is going on here?

  77. Bathrobe says

    Thanks, Hans. My original surmise (as I noted) was that шпагетти came from German to Russian, thence to Mongolian. The fact that the Russian is actually спагетти threw me, but if шпагетти does actually exist in Russian then my surmise still stands. There is quite a lot of Russian in Mongolian (even more in spoken Mongolian than in good written Mongolian, which has undergone some official purging by the linguistic authorities) and I can often tell Mongolians with confidence, yeah, yeah, that’s Russian but it originally came from French xxxx or German yyyy. (As I once told an Inner Mongolian legal expert who claimed to me that Mongolian прокурор, borrowed from Russian, isolated it from international usage, as exemplified by English ‘prosecutor’: прокурор is very likely from French and is certainly not isolated from international usage.)

  78. J.W. Brewer says

    And indeed English does have its own version of прокурор, taken from Old French via Anglo-Norman, which in recent times means “a person who procures or obtains things, especially one who procures customers for prostitutes.” In Anglophone legal systems, procurers sometimes run afoul of prosecutors, but perhaps it is otherwise in Francophone systems.

  79. Roberto Batisti says

    Re: shpaghett’, Neapolitan /s/ is indeed [ʃ] before voiceless non-coronal consonants and [ʒ] before voiced ones. Many central and southern Italian dialects do the same (not necessarily with the same place-of-articulation restriction). You’re right that this kind of shift is typologically very widespread (cf. the similar, unrelated phenomenon in German), probably with a phonetic motivation: see e.g. this paper on pre-consonantal /s/-retraction.

  80. @Bathrobe: It just occurred to me that the Mongolian pronunciation with “sh” may in fact be loaned directly from German. When I was working in Ulaanbaatar a couple of months in 2000, there was a visible group of German expats living there; the city had two German breweries and a German butcher. I was told that they were the remnants of Eastern German development projects during Socialist times; the GDR had sponsored such projects and sent hundreds of specialists to Mongolia, and thousands of Mongolians had studied in East Berlin and Dresden. It’s not unlikely that this was the vector for both Mongolian familiarity with the dish and for the pronunciation.

  81. Cowboy coffee reminded me of another cowboy tip:
    take a bath every Saturday whether you need it or not.

  82. The version of the coffee recipe I am most familiar with involves a presumably human shoe: To tell if the pot is done, put a shoe in it. If the shoe sinks, the coffee’s not thick enough.

  83. whether you need it or not.

    Also ascribed to Elizabeth I, the Cowgirl Queen.

  84. David Eddyshaw says

    It seems relevant to recall at this point the Icelandic laugardagur “Saturday” (“bath day.”)

    Cowboys, nothing. Vikings!

  85. Nothing unusual about that. When I was a lad, we always bathed on Saturday. During the week, we’d wash ourselves with cold water at the bathroom sink, and on Saturdays, our mom would start the boiler, an old model that took 2-3 hours to heat up a tubful of water.

  86. PlasticPaddy says

    I am sure you know this song:

  87. Trond Engen says

    Stephen Goranson: take a bath every Saturday whether you need it or not.

    I’ve heard it as “every Christmas”.

  88. @Paddy: No, I didn’t; despite him being a cause célèbre as a dissident singer-songwriter in the GDR, his actual music wasn’t played much on West German stations, and I’m not really acquainted with his oeuvre.

  89. PlasticPaddy says

    OK, the bath on Saturday (but not the father’s behaviour in the song) must have been one of the things common to BRD and DDR 😊

  90. Sure. Our mother told us that when she was a child (in the early 50s) and the bathwater still needed to be heated on the stove, it was indeed the usual thing to share the bathwater – first the child (she) would be bathed in the tub, and then her mother and after her her father would bathe in the same water.
    Hot running water from the tap really made personal hygiene much easier.

  91. David Marjanović says

    I wonder how паштет happened. Alemannic? Misreading of mainstream German?

    “It wasn’t until my 20’s I discovered there was taste in Brussels Sprouts.”

    That’s amazing because I find the taste and smell overpowering to the point I refuse to eat the stuff.

    Across the Atlantic and across the prairies, cowboy coffee is made thus: put in a pot a gallon of water, a pound of coffee, and a horseshoe. Boil over the fire until the horseshoe floats.

    Ah, so it wasn’t made up for Lucky Luke, where it goes (from memory, my translation from German): “First you moisten a pound of coffee with water. Then you boil it. Then you do the horseshoe test: if it sinks, it wasn’t enough coffee!”

  92. @David Marjanović: Tasteless Brussels Sprouts are product of boiling them until they are so soft they fall apart. This was presumably done both to achieve that easily-gummed texture and to eliminate many of those supposedly offensive sulfur flavors. However, the objectionable flavors have been largely bred out* of the cultivars that are popular now—at least in America. I am a known evangelist for the roasted Brussels sprouts at my regular restaurant; if people at a nearby table are trying to decide what sides to order, I always recommend the sprouts.

    * I sometimes wonder how much of the improvement in aromatic crops like sprouts and alliums is due to selective breeding and how much is from the pure luck of finding mutant strains. I once had a sport onion in my kitchen, that was much stronger than the usual ones—witheringly noxious as I cut into it, even to my normally pretty resistant eyes and nose. Of course, sometimes individual plants are just stronger than others, but this one was definitely a mutant, because in addition to the must stronger exudations, the internal structure was just obviously different. I cut it open and discovered it was a jumbo onion with only four layers, each nearly an inch thick! Had I kept my wits about me, I would have tried to replant it. I’m not sure whether there would be any interest in such a noxious mutant cultivar, but it would have been interesting to try raising a new breed even so.

  93. PlasticPaddy says

    It must be wonderful to live so near to a nuclear power plant. I think some nations (Germany) like the strong-flavoured onions….

  94. David Marjanović says

    I sometimes wonder how much of the improvement in aromatic crops like sprouts and alliums is due to selective breeding and how much is from the pure luck of finding mutant strains.

    Same thing: first you find a mutant, then you breed it.

  95. Coffee-related: Somewhere in one of his essays, Robertson Davies mentions meeting an elderly English couple (in Canada, I think) who said that their tea had to be “strong enough to trot a mouse.” Whether they actually kept a mouse on hand to test their tea was left unsaid.

  96. I’m prepping for a colonoscopy today (every five years at my age), and I’m glad one of the fluids I can drink is coffee. I don’t mind the lack of food as long as I can get my fix.

  97. Trond Engen says

    Tea-related: I’ve been told that to get the perfect blend of tea and sugar, you add sugar slowly while stirring counter-clockwise with a silver spoon. Keep adding sugar and stirring until the cup follows the spoon around.

  98. @LH: Good luck! (I had my first one last year, seems I’m entering your age bracket.)
    @Trond: Bleargh. People who do that to tea should rather drink fizzy drinks.

  99. Trond Engen says

    Yeah. Well. The person who said so wasn’t especially fond of tea. Me, I didn’t like it until I discovered I could leave the sugar out. That doesn’t mean I can’t bring on the advice when suitable.

  100. @DM, Now I’m curious about how the joke has been circulating and how it got on one hand, to my friend who told me the joke, and on the other, to Lucky Luke. Maybe ultimately through some Western?

  101. David Marjanović says

    Keep adding sugar and stirring until the cup follows the spoon around.

    Some kinds of tea are like that if you oversteep them.

    Maybe ultimately through some Western?

    Highly likely, but I’ve watched far too few Westerns to say anything more.

  102. Lucky Luke is known for referencing and parodying both real features of the Wild West and Western movies. So if the joke is old enough, Morris or Goscinny will have come across it in their research for the comic.

  103. Off for my colonoscopy — see you all in a few hours! (I hope they give me an English muffin afterwards like they did last time.)

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

    Vaguely related recipe for a lille sort: Put a nickel at the bottom of your coffee cup, add coffee until you don’t see it, add vodka (snaps, but it’s much of a muchness) until you see it again.

  105. January First-of-May says

    Me, I didn’t like it until I discovered I could leave the sugar out.

    For a while I disliked sugar cubes for tea because one sugar cube was consistently too much for me and zero was consistently too little. (With more fine-grained divisions I could put, say, two-thirds of a teaspoon.)

    Lately I tend to like tea just fine with no added sugar at all. Coffee is still tricky though.

  106. I’m the opposite: I take my coffee straight but need some sugar in my tea.

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