Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
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Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
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David Solway
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward



Howard Richler is the author of The Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, and most recently, Global Mother Tongue: The Eight Flavours of English by Véhicule Press (2007).



Finally! In recent years the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online edition has seen fit to add many food terms to its entries. The majority, such as “calamari,” “fajita,” “focaccia,” “frittata,” “maki zushi,” “moo goo gai pan” and “tikka masala,” will be known to gourmet readers. I suspect, however, not everyone will be familiar with “pasanda,” a north Indian dish consisting of slices of meat (usually lamb) beaten thin and cooked in a rich sauce made with tomatoes, yoghurt, cream, and often almonds; or “maque choux,” a Cajun dish of creamed corn and vegetables, or “mee krob,” a Thai dish of crisp fried noodles served with prawns and pork or chicken; or “gyoza,” which, according to the OED is, “In Japanese cookery: a crescent-shaped dumpling of thin pastry dough, stuffed with a finely minced paste (typically made of pork, cabbage, and garlic chives), and steam-fried, deep-fried, grilled, or boiled.”

To date, inexplicably missing from this list of epicurean delights has been “poutine,” arguably the national dish of the Québecois. What’s the value of being designated a nation if your cuisine has not been recognized? Hell, even “moose burger” was admitted into the OED in December 2002.

So, I’m pleased to report that as of December 14th, 2006 “poutine,” along with “pomander” and “prajnaparamita,” was added to the lexicon of our planet’s supreme dictionary. It is defined as “A dish of chips (French fried potatoes), topped traditionally with cheese curds and gravy.”

To give the word a little historical flavour, the first citation of “poutine” comes from the Toronto Star of March 24, 1982: “Two types of poutine can be found in Quebec -- regular and Italian-style, made with spaghetti sauce.”

Poutine, the bane of cardiologists, stems from the English word “pudding.” Le pudding is referenced in 1678 France to refer to “pudding steamed in a cloth bag.” In the dialect of Nice, pudding became la poutina, but it referred to a mélange of fried sardines and anchovies done in lemon oil. The most recent reincarnation of poutine occurred in Quebec in 1957. Legend has it that truck driver Eddy Lainesse had a culinary epiphany at Fernand and Germaine Lachance’s café in Warwick, Quebec. Lainesse suggested mixing the cheese curds with fries. Et voila!-- poutine, à la québecois According to Bill Casselman in Canadian Food Words, “The gravy was not beef gravy at first, but Germaine Lachance’s special recipe of brown sugar, ketchup and a plop or two of Worcestershire sauce.”

Since language is in a constant state of flux and a lexicographer’s work is never done, as a proud Quebecker, I am assuaged by the lexical status granted to the word “poutine.” The first edition of the OED, replete with 414,825 words, was completed in 1928, of which ceremonial presentations were made to President Calvin Coolidge and His Majesty King George V. Supplements ensued but not until 1989 did a second edition, comprised of 20 volumes, appear. According to The Oxford Companion to the English Language, this edition has “21,728 pages and contains some 290,500 main entries, within which there are a further 157,000 combinations and derivatives in bold type (all defined) and a further 169,000 phrases and undefined combinations in bold italic type, totalling 615,500 word forms.”

As the pace of change is ever-quickening, commencing in March 2000, the 20 volume OED, plus three volumes of additions, became available online through the medium of the World Wide Web. Present plans are to incorporate at least 1000 new and revised entries each quarter. Thus, 120 years after the first editor of the OED, James Augustus Murray, launched an “appeal for Words for the Oxford English Dictionary,” John Simpson, the present OED Chief Editor, invited readers “to contribute to the development of the Dictionary by adding to our record of English throughout the world. Everyone can play a part in recording the history of the language and in helping to enhance the Oxford English Dictionary.” Simpson also stated, “there is no longer one English -- there are many Englishes. Words are flooding into the language from all corners of the world. Only a dictionary the size of the OED can adequately capture the true richness of the English language throughout its history, and the developments in world English.”

The present 26 volume OED will expand to a rather unwieldy total of over 50 tomes upon the completion of the next edition within two decades. One reason so many words are being added is because of the lexicographic advancements in non-British and non-American Englishes whose words are increasingly being recorded in the OED.

Leading the way in the inaugural edition were 1000 revised and updated words from “M” to “MAH.” Simpson explained that the revision began with the letter M because “we wanted to start the revision at a point halfway through the dictionary where the style was largely consistent, and to return to the earlier, less consistent areas later.” In addition to these exhaustive revisions, selected entries are added every three months. As a result, new entries include: “bada bing” (presto), “barista” (maker of coffee in a coffee bar), “bootylicious” (sexy), “chav” (brash, loutish person), “colonoscopy,” “cybersex,” “digerati” (technology experts), “Ebonics” (African-American English), “gaydar” (an ability, particularly of gay people, to spot other gay people), “jihadist,” “Jones” (intense craving) and “vidiot” (a habitual player of video games).

As the English language has increasingly embedded itself into varied landscapes throughout the globe, many new words have streamed into the OED from places as far flung as Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Zagreb, Croatia. Not surprisingly, many of these words reveal cultural practices about particular societies. For example, in Japan “miai” denotes the initial formal meeting of prospective partners in a Japanese arranged marriage This pre-nuptial get-together might be arranged by a “nakodo,” who is the person who acts as intermediary in arranging the introduction of the prospective parties and who then assists in subsequent negotiations. This word derives from the Japanese naka, “middle.”

Another exotic source, Southern Africa, has provided many new musical terms. “Mbaqanga” is a style of jazz influenced by popular music, particularly southern African forms. It originated in Johannesburg in the 1950s and derives from the Zulu word umbaqanga, “steamed maize bread.” The music “mbube” derives from the Zulu imbube, “lion.” This word came from the title of a song first recorded in 1939. In a later rendition it was titled “Wimoweh” with the famous chorus, “The lion sleeps tonight.” This style features male choral music and combines traditional Zulu songs with American gospel music. “Mgqashiyo” comes from Zulu and refers to a style of popular music featuring close-harmony singing (usually by a three- or four-woman group) of traditional or neo-traditional African songs set to mbaqanga rhythms and instrumentation. It derives from a Zulu word that means “to dance attractively or in a modern style.” The word “malombo” comes from the Venda language spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In Venda, it means “spirit” and refers to a rite of exorcism conducted by a diviner, accompanied by drumming, singing and dancing, which elicits a state of excitement in its participants. The word also refers to a style of music that blends the drum style used in the Venda rite with elements taken from jazz and African popular music.

Not surprisingly, many of the new entries coming out of the Islamic world are dominated by religion. The term “mutawwa” can refer to one who offers his services for the common weal, but it is also the name of the crusading religious police in Saudi Arabia, whose official title is “The Committee for Propagating Virtue and Suppressing Evil.” “Namaz” and “maghrib” refer to the ritual prayers prescribed by Islam to be observed five times daily. In the Islamic sect of Sufism, the term “murshid” refers to a spiritual guide who initiates the less devout into the mysteries of faith. In Arabic, the word literally means “a person who gives right guidance.”

In certain Shiite Muslim communities, the term “mut’a” refers to a fixed-term marriage, usually of short duration. Literally, in Arabic, mut’a means “enjoyment.” Joining “hijab” and “burqa” as prescribed forms of modest dress for Muslim women is the term “niqab,” which is a veil worn by some Muslim women, covering all of the face and having two holes for the eyes. The term “mudhif” in Iraq, and specifically among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, refers to a guest house or reception room. While chilling at the mudhif, you might want to try out a “narghile.” According to the OED, the term is used for “all types of hookahs in Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire, but in Iran it is properly applied to a type designed for travelling, in which the receptacle for the water is actually made from, or to resemble, a coconut.”

With all these new terms for food and exotic cultures coming into the OED online edition, one may experience surprising reactions while browsing through it. For instance, it may not only be food for thought but may also lead to the thought of food. Take solace, that this edition is totally ‘non-cal.’ Whereas the second edition weighed 138 pounds, the third edition even at its completion will be weightless in its digital form. This could also lighten your baggage should you get the urge to travel to the countries of origin of these most recent OED entries. Bon voyage et bon appétit! = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
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