Issue 172, page 4

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From Charles Cruthirds:

I recently read the snippet on huitlacoche in the recent TOWFI.  I lived for several years in the Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where there are many restaurants that specialize in authentic Mexican cooking. I ate huitlacoche on "huachinango" (red snapper) and it definitely tasted better than it looked. I think the chef pureed it with lime juice and other spices and served it over the grilled fish. Believe me, every bite was heaven!  Here in Austin, it is available in supermarkets in the ethnic foods section. I would imagine that you could find it in a specialty food store. Good luck!

We've seen it canned in the grocery stores here in San Jose, California but have yet to see it on a menu. We'll keep looking!

From Paul Burns:

One important ingredient for hominy is wood ashes.

Unground (whole) corn kernels are boiled in water that is made alkali with lye or in pioneer days, wood ashes (filtered I presume). This "pops" the corn kernel and removes the hard non-nutritious hull. The now "hominy" looks like soggy popcorn but is solid and firm. This is washed to remove the alkali (and ash) then can be dried and ground as grits or served fresh as hominy.

This makes hominy one of the two or three alkali foods we normally eat (asparagus is also alkali).

While grits is ubiquitous (at least down here in Georgia), hominy is now rare. Fortunately it is available in cans at the Piggly Wiggly.

Love your site.

This lye treatment, also known as nixtamalization, is essential to release the niacin which the corn contains.  Thanks for reminding us of that.

And we're glad to hear there are still Piggly Wigglies around. (Piggly Wiggly is the name of a chain of grocery stories that used to be ubiquitous, at least in the South.)

From Steve Bradshaw:

In my experience (southern California), hominy is usually whole and sometimes coarsely ground (hominy grits). Also, hominy is typically made by cooking dried corn in lye water.  It is this process that removes the hull and germ as the kernel swells. This process also greatly increases the amount of usable niacin. The pellagra outbreak in the South was due to subsisting on a diet of untreated corn. The Native Americans knew better and used ashes and powdered lime to treat their corn (how did they know that?).  However, when I think of hominy my thoughts turn to pozole, not grits. Hmmm.  Grain, kernel, corn. That could be another discussion?

Powdered lime nixtamalizes even more effectively than ashes.  As for grain, corn, etc., see Issue 23.

From Christopher Mitson:

Allow me to heap yet more praise upon your heads for such a consistently enjoyable and erudite site. Life would be poorer without it. Here is another meaning of the noun jade - a callous or unfeeling woman. It was popularised by Gilbert and Sullivan in "The Yeoman of the Guard"

When jealous torments rack my soul,
My agonies I can't control,
Oh, better sit on red hot coal
Than love a heartless jade.

"Heartless jade" became a cliché for an uncaring female sweetheart but presumably the librettist Sullivan drew on some existing use?

Here in New Zealand, jade has special significance for the indigenous Maori people. Carved jade - greenstone or pounamu - has now become an icon of "New Zealandness" for non-Maori Kiwis as well.

To be super-correct the greenstone worn around your neck (by males and females alike) must be a gift from another person, not bought by yourself. Ideally it should also be blessed by a kaumata (Maori elder) to transfer the mana (prestige, spiritual power) of the carver to the wearer and then washed in the sea before you wear it.

On the other hand, heaps of imitations are made in Taiwan, sent to NZ and flogged off (sold) to gullible tourists as authentic Maori art.

Sir Arthur Sullivan did indeed draw on an existing usage of jade for "woman", which apparently derives from the "worn out horse" meaning. 

From Brad Daniels:

I wonder if question marks might not sometimes indicate that a sentence is said with a questioning inflection? That is, rather than just indicating that a sentence constitutes a question?

Also, even though sentences beginning with "I wonder" are not technically questions, they do often solicit answers. E.g. "I wonder if you've seen this?" to which one is expected to answer either "yes, I have," or "no, I haven't." Since it serves the function of a question, it is not unreasonable to want to use a question mark. 

You could counter by arguing that rhetorical questions still always end in question marks, but then, ending a rhetorical question with a period might also be reasonable, might it not. Unless, of course, it's said with a questioning inflection?

Is there a word for a statement intended as a question? "Non-rhetorical statement," perhaps? I have this nagging suspicion I've heard a term that fits, but I can't think what it is.

An "interrogatory declarative", perhaps. Readers? 

From Debby Briggs:

In your discussion of grits, you mentioned a corn fungus so desirable to Mexican farmers that "some even inoculate their corn with the fungus." I was confused by this phrasing, because I always understood inoculation as a prevention of disease, not an action to encourage it. I checked the dictionary, and it seems to back up my understanding. Am I missing something? 

Yep.  Well, actually, your dictionary is missing something.  If you read books and articles about fungus propagation, or even books and articles about plant propagation in general, you would come across the term.  In horticulture, inoculate means "engraft" or "implant", and the word is used in a figurative sense with regard to introducing a disease (usually a dead or weakened form of it) into one's bloodstream so that one produces antibodies against it.  The word derives from Latin in- "in" and oculus "eye, bud of a plant".  So introducing or "implanting" fungus into corn (or any other medium) is also known as inoculation.

Also, note that inoculate has one n, while the unrelated innocuous (etymologically "not noxious") has two.

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From William Dale:

My dictionary claims to not know the origin of the word "ofay", a term used by a black person about a white person. Logic dictates that it is pigeon english for "foe", as in Enemy.

Many people are laboring under the delusion that the phrase "spittin' image" (sic) is a relaxed spelling of "spitting image". There is no such thing as a spitting image. So, what, Dog 'n Suds is a corruption of "Dogging Suds"? How do suds dog? Get real. "Spit 'n image" is from "spirit and image" referring to one's character and there physical appearance. E.G. He's the spit'n image of his father...etc.

Actually, most scholars discount the "foe" derivation as nothing more than an "implausible guess" (OED).  Instead, the most likely explanation is that it comes from an African source.  One erstwhile etymologist suggested that it came from Ibibio afia "white or light colored", but the OED says there is no foundation for that exact derivation.  Mencken felt that it derived from au fait, a French term used in English to imply "fully conversant with", which Mencken took to another level to mean "mastery".  The OED does not even comment upon that explanation.

As for spitting image, we discussed it way back in Issue 19, at which time we explained that your favored derivation is not likely the true one.

From Wayne Smith:

I just got done reading the "coney" joke from 1595 [third group of letters from the top of the page] in the English of the period. I know I have read a modernized version somewhere, but just seeing it in its pristine beauty cracked me up. I think it was the sentence in Latin that did it. Any way, I had to send it to ALL of my friends with no explanation. I hope they enjoy it as much as I did!

So do we!  Glad to hear you enjoyed it.


Or read last week's issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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Last Updated 10/13/02 08:09 PM