April 28, 2012 | Review Period

Food Teaches You Vocabulary

People tend to remember the names of things they like to eat.

When I look at a list of animal vocabulary in French, or Italian, the words I tend to remember and recognize the best are often animals likely to be found on menus.

I Need to Regrow Some Vocabulary

I Need to Regrow Some Vocabulary

Like chèvre, which means “goat” in French. This is a word I hardly ever use in any language. In Manhattan there are not many goats, though I have been told that about 100 years ago the roof of my apartment building supported a farm with goats as well as chickens and other animals.

In today’s largely farm-free, goat-free modern Manhattan, there remains nonetheless a great deal of goat cheese. I see it on menus all the time. So chèvre is very familiar. So is agneau. Definitely more familiar, anyway, than a chameau (camel) or an ours (bear). Which do not end up on local menus.

The French grammar is coming back fast. I went through a lot of it rather thoroughly last year, and besides, that was only a year ago. My passive vocabulary remains pretty substantial, but the active has shrunk considerably, so I am working on that.

More comparative word lists: Yesterday = gestern (German), ayer (Spanish), ieri (Italian), hier (French). I read that “yesterday” in English dates back to before 950 A.D., from Old English geostran dæg. 

In that expression one can see a strong resemblance to the modern German gestern and Dutch gisteren (both meaning “yesterday”). In addition, dæg looks like the modern German and Dutch words for “day” (Tag and dag, respectively).

I do like my French book reasonably well (Complete French Grammar, by Annie Heminway), but the vocabulary strikes me as a little advanced at times. On a word list on page 115, I was told how to say “to caramelize” (caraméliser), “to grind” (broyer), “to braise” (braiser), “to scale fish” (écailler), and so on. This is taking the food theme a little too far too fast, I think.

The same word, hôte, can be both “guest” and “host” in French. I just did a quick online search to try to figure out why that is; I’ve wondered this before. The reason was not immediately apparent to me, though whatever it is, it appears to be many centuries old. In my mind, being a good guest and being a good host are two quite different roles, but this fact remains: they have many skills in common.

Comments (3)

Charles • Posted on Mon, May 28, 2012 - 2:15 am EST

The English words for both “host” and “guest” derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root “ghosti” that the French “hôte” does. Our words “hospitality” and “hostility” also come the same word. 

See for the etymology

Charles • Posted on Wed, May 30, 2012 - 11:36 pm EST

I forgot to mention Max Beerbohm’s wonderful essay “Hosts and Guests” where he, like you, takes the stand that the two are different. I hope you enjoy it.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, May 31, 2012 - 12:20 am EST

Thank you, Charles! I appreciate the information!

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