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New American English Words (Part 1)(第18回)

#18. New American English Words (Part 1)

Jayna Tokie Tanaka

    Some of my students like to “invent”{1} new English words. Actually, they do not really “invent” them on purpose; these new words are formed because they are too lazy to use a dictionary. The problem is the many different forms that English words take when they are used as different parts of speech: entertainer and entertainment are nouns, the verb is entertain, the adjectives are entertained and entertaining, and the adverb is entertainingly. However, a student may try to write something like, “The comedian was very entertainable{2}.” I always have to inform them politely but firmly that only native speakers are usually allowed to invent new words. Since most of my students are Japanese, I tell them that they can invent words in Japanese but that they will have to be content with the words in an English dictionary. Of course, new words enter the language in many ways, and there are words that are used all the time but are not yet in the dictionaries. There are also words that have been “revived.” These are words that have existed in English but have recently become popular again. Then there are all those words that have been appropriated from other languages because the things or concepts simply do not exist in the English language. The new words we are most familiar with come from the culinary world, while others come from politics and economics, and of course, they come from the widespread use of the Internet.

Food

     Food has always been vulnerable to invasion by new words, for as people spread over the earth, they encountered new food sources and new ways of preparing them. Presently, the spread of food from different cultures has just seemed to be moving faster as we can literally “tap into” these cultures for dinner recipes. The cuisines of all the world’s peoples are at your fingertips, and the names of ingredients, dishes, and whole systems of eating have become familiar to many people.

     My favorite social networking service (SNS) is called Pinterest, where I find recipes for the hungry people at my house, but I often have to use a dictionary or the Internet just to read the ingredient list. A while ago, we finally got used to saying pasta for what we used to call spaghetti, but when did calamari become the word for squid? You should certainly also be aware of arugula, a slightly bitter salad green, made famous by former President Obama when he made a campaign speech about the “elitist” salad ingredient. Arugula, also known as rocket and rucola, will probably be on the menu the next time you eat at a fancy restaurant. There are also many new seeds on the market that are better to eat than grains because of their low glycemic index (GI). GI measures how much a food raises blood sugar, which people who are prone to diabetics must be careful about. Chia seeds, quinoa, and buckwheat groats are now available in most grocery stores. Moreover, people everywhere are now quite knowledgable about ramen, udon, and soba noodles, all of which have entered English dictionaries. These Japanese words join a long list of Japanese food ingredients made popular by fusion chefs, including yuzu, enoki, shiitake, and nori.

     Every time we enter a restaurant for the first time, there are apt to be preparations we have never heard of staring at us from the menu. This is especially true of restaurants where chefs like to borrow from other cultures. Many sauces these days do not betray their origins. Aioli sounded like a Hawaiian word to me, especially because I first encountered it in Hawaii. However, I found that it is a Mediterranean word meaning a garlic and olive oil sauce, which now usually resembles a garlic flavored mayonnaise. How about sriracha? You are certain to find it on the table if you go to a Thai food restaurant. Along with Thai fish sauce, nam pla, this hot chili sauce has become a hit with those who love Southeast Asian food. Another Thai preparation, Massaman{3} curry, became famous after being rated the most delicious dish in the world by CNNgo, the live online streaming site available in the U.S. Massaman, whose origin is not clear, is a relatively mild curry usually made with chicken and potatoes. The final example is a surprising one: Hokkaido milk bread. The fact that Hokkaido bread is a popular new food is surprising enough because people outside Asia do not realize how much Asians like bread, but the method of preparing it is even more interesting. This soft white bread is made with the tangzhong method. Tangzhong? It sounds Chinese, and it is. The story is that this method of making the bread was developed by the Japanese, who called it yudane, meaning “hot water seed,” but the writer who popularized this method of bread making was Chinese. The same two kanji were used, and they are pronounced tangzhong in Chinese. This is surely proof that the mixing and integrating of cultures is becoming swifter than ever.

     Finally, there are those fad diets, which may be gone quite quickly but nevertheless stick in our minds, sometimes because they do not make sense at all. For a while, I was completely confused. I kept seeing “gluten-free” on packages of food everywhere. Why would people want to eat food without gluten, the ingredient in grains that make bread products rise? I learned that there are people who have a gluten allergy (called coeliac disease), so avoiding any food products with gluten is understandable. However, I was seeing too many products on the market advertised as “gluten-free” for just those with a food allergy. The gluten-free diet has become one of those that claim to cure a myriad of diseases but have little scientific evidence as yet. Another is the paleo diet, which advocates the elimination of foods available from grains, beans, and dairy products. This means that the diet consists of mostly of what people think their ancestors ate during the Paleolithic era, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat. Then there is the ketogenic diet or “keto diet,” one which was developed and has been proven to be very effective for the control of epilepsy. This diet is high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates. Again, people have adopted the diet for reasons other than what it was intended for. What these diets with their fancy names have in common is a seemingly scientific basis for their choices of foods. The lesson here is that people must be aware that there is science and pseudo-science and that they must learn to make the distinction.

(To be continued)

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     {1} Quotation marks are used when the writer wants a word to have a meaning other than that in a dictionary.
     {2} Italics are used for words not in an English dictionary.
     {3} This word is capitalized because the origin is probably a proper noun.

日本語訳はこちら

■筆者紹介
Jayna Tokie Tanaka(ジェイナ・トキエ・タナカ)
ハワイ大学マノア校大学院課程にて修士号(日本文学)取得後,来日。明治学院大学,東京国際大学,早稲田大学で長年英語講師として教鞭をとる。現在,早稲田大学政治経済学部に英語講師として勤務。弊社英語顧問。

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