or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

If Music Be The Food Of Love

I grew up in a very musical family: we sang a lot, we were all in various choirs and music groups, all played the piano, and some of us (not I) also played the violin and the ukulele (really), among other instruments. Here is a piece we used to listen to, Heinz' Kitchen Symphony, for piano, trumpet, and an array of kitchen implements, whatever you happen to have around, really. We toyed with the idea of learning it, but none of us played the trumpet (though my father for some reason had a clarinet or an oboe or something in the basement: I'm quite sure he never played it, so I have no idea where it came from, but the house was kind of full of inexplicable objects, so that was just one more).

I hadn't heard it in certainly thirty years, but it all came back to me. You really ought to listen to it: it's a little dose of charm and joy in your day. Thank you, Youtube!

There's nothing odd about the fact that we have such a load of words for the kitchen and its arts in English: the language revels in multiplicities. But even though I knew that "kitchen" was Germanic, plainly related to "K├╝che", and that "cuisine" was obviously from French, I could not place "culinary": it looks as if it might be French in origin, but what was its source?

Well. My first surprise was that "cuisine" is from Late Latin "cocina", and that hard consonant in the middle means that "Kuche" must surely be related, and by golly, it is. "Cocina" is from Latin "coquina", "kitchen", from the verb "coquere", "to cook", and you are ahead of me in realizing that "coquere" is the source of "cook" in English, so the German, English, and French words are all intimately bound up together in their Latin origin.

"Culinary", though, even though it seems as if it ought to have some connection with "cuisine", however tenuous, doesn't make sense. And yet the connection is there, even though it is tenuous: the Online Etymology Dictionary claims its source, "culina", to be an "unexplained variant" of "coquere". Good enough for me!

But there's more. "Culina" gave English another word: since it once meant not only "kitchen" but also synecdochally "stove", it led to the word "kiln". Who'd have thought!

P.S. About that title: an artsy friend once told me the story of a production of Twelfth Night--I recall him saying that he'd seen it, though it might have been just an anecdote--in which the actor playing Orsino began, "If FOOD...." Where do you go from there? Pretend you didn't say it and power ahead? Slink off the stage? Pause and start over?


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