or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Punt's A Pound

Yes, this is exactly what it looks like.

Two words today, both used correctly (amazingly enough), one unusual (with a brief excursus), one more usual but used in a slightly uncommon way (a way, in fact, that I had forgotten about).

From an article on bizarre Japanese ice cream flavours such as octopus and, as seen above, curry:

But the dubious choice to add soy sauce to milk and sugar and pack it in a punnet has made the condiment a standout pick to headline the Wackiest World of Japanese Ice Cream and possibly soy, er, soiled the reputation of ice cream as we know it forever.

It's obvious from the context what a punnet is, isn't it? It must be some sort of container. And of course it is: originally a felt basket used for collecting fruit and flowers, it came to mean, in the UK, any kind of small container. The odd thing is that nobody really knows where the word came from, even though it's strongly suggestive of at least three things: "pound" (the OED thinks it's from "pound" plus diminutive "-et" ending, but isn't sure), "punt", and "pint". I wanted it to be from "pint", as in "pint basket of strawberries", but apparently it isn't.

And now, that excursus. "Punt" is a really interesting word, because it has four meanings in standard English (not counting the Irish unit of currency, which is related to "pound"), and each of them came from a different source, which is to say that the word entered the language four times from completely different roots. Isn't that something? A punt is a little flat-bottomed boat, which evolved from Latin "pons", "bridge". A punt is also the deep concavity at the bottom of a bottle of champagne, from French "point", the name for a piece of glass-blowing equipment. To punt is also to kick, probably derived from "bunt". And to punt is also to bet (hence the British "punter", meaning "gambler"), from an old French word meaning "to put", as in "to lay a bet" (it originally meant, in Latin, "to lay an egg").

And on to our other word, as seen in this sentence from a Slate.com article on Douglas Coupland:

Now the techniques he helped popularize have been advanced by others: David Foster Wallace dilates more obsessively on pop culture, while Jonathan Safran Foer plays with the text of the book for greater emotional effect.

"Dilates"! I had honestly forgotten that that meaning even existed, as if the usual meaning had eclipsed it altogether. And yet the two meanings are practically identical, aren't they? "Dilate" means "to expand, to become larger", and when you dilate on a subject, you write or talk about it at length--you literally expand on it.


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