Thursday, October 6, 2011

cucumbersome


No, that is not a stutter in the machine. Both Peter Rozovsky and Sean Patrick Reardon found themselves wondering how 'cucumber' might fit into all the cumbersome madness of the post before and frankly it crossed my mind as well. And then Peter beat me to the draw on the pun--who'd have thought it?--so there you go. I should probably let them write this post themselves.

So is cucumber in any way related to cumbersome, encumber or any of that family?

I haven't looked yet, but my guess is no--it will turn out to be sheer coincidence. Wagers, ladies and gents?


***

Correct! Cucumber has apparently always stood for the simple cucumber. It is a single source with many variants as it passed from the Latin, which was cucumerem or cucumis, which is suspected to be from an even earlier Mediterranean language. Out of this we have the Old French cocombre (which lent English that 'b')  and modern French concombre. Apparently the French still want a little more distinction from the English. And we've got the Italian cocomero, the Spanish cohombro and the Portuguese cogombro. Do you ever get the feeling that when it comes to words, people  can't just leave well enough alone?
African Horned cucumber


As a matter of fact, Old English had a perfectly good word for them, which was eorþæppla, or earth-apple. Not that they look all that much like apples to me, but still. Maybe they were rounder back in the day. The Brits kind of took their own back after awhile, though, when, in the 17th century, they  began referring to them as Cowcumbers. Which I kind of like, actually.

The online etymology dictionary waxes on uncharacteristically, telling us that cucumbers (or probably more likely, cowcumbers) were planted at Jamestown in 1609. And we even get a bit of scientific trivia. The phrase 'cool as a  cucumber'  which dates back to at least 1732, was apparently only finally confirmed in 1970, when it was proved that on a hot day in the field, a cucumber was 20% cooler inside than out.

Why no one ever thought to stick a thermometer in one before this, I don't know. 

This would be about time for a nice cucumber salad recipe, but the truth is, I'm not all that crazy about those little earth apples (they are actually from the gourd family).  Until they're pickles, anyway. Feel free, however, to post a good recipe below.                 

Oh yeah, and I forgot all about sea cucumbers. But that's probably another story...

8 comments:

  1. That African horned cucumber is one scary vegetable.

    The Dutch word for cucumber, by the way, is komkommer. Kom is also the first-person present indicative of the verb to come, and the past tense of kom is kwam. So a Dutch joke asks “What’s the past tense of cucumber (komkommer)?” and the answer is “kwamkwammer.”
    ======================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  2. Cucumerem? No relation to cumin. I suppose?
    ======================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  3. Sorry to leave out the Dutch! Kwamkwammer reminds me of Joyce, particularly because we finished a section that ends quoiquoiquoiquoi quoiquoiquoiq!

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  4. Cumin? Oh, man. I'm not sure I'm up tracking down food families...

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  5. But just think of the marvelous opportunities for wordplay that cumin would afford.

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  6. Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of.

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  7. Seana

    You forgot the cucumber sandwiches which are a staple of your beloved Henry James and - more to my taste - PG Wodehouse.

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  8. P.G. Wodehouse is more to my taste than cucumber sandwiches as well. Although it is one of the more palatable ways to serve them. I associate cucumber sandwiches with little tea parties she used to give us as kids.

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