Monday, April 26, 2010

On Foreign Words Used in the American-English Vernacular - Part Two: Confused Parts of Speech

While Part One discusses what I believe to be a futile attempt to apply the pluralization rules of the original languages to borrowed words that have entered the English vernacular, Part Two (uh, yeah, this one) suggests where that vigilant energy could be better spent.


*As a food writer, I use the word "sauté" a lot in my writing. And every time I look at the word in all its variations (sauté, sautés, sautée, sautées, sautéd, and sautéed), I always feel there's something weird about it. The verb in its original French infinitive form,"sauter," has most likely entered the English vernacular in its passive participle form, i.e. sauté (when used with a masculine singular noun), sautés (when used with a masculine plural noun), sautée (when used with a feminine singular noun), and sautées (when used with a feminine plural noun). Then the forms became "frozen" or "fossilized" and regardless of their functions in English sentences, the French passive participle forms are used. This is the only explanation I can think of.

For those who know French, you already know what I'm getting at. For those who don't, let's just say that "sauté, sautés, sautée, and sautées" are all analogous to the English "fried" as in, "the mushrooms are fried," or "broken" as in, "the glass has been broken." In other words, passive participle.

Just as "fried" is an inflected form of the naked form "to fry" and "broken" is an inflected from of "to break," "sauté, sautés, sautée, and sautées" are inflected forms of the infinitive "sauter." Saying, "I am going to sauté that piece of meat,"therefore, is akin to saying, "I am going to fried that piece of meat."

Throw in the variants sautée with an extra e (which in French indicates its agreement with the feminine gender of the noun with which it is used), and you get deeper into confusion.

This is a different issue from the use of fiancé to refer to an engaged man and fiancée to refer to an engaged woman. In that case, it's just a matter of using an extra e to indicate the feminine gender; the way the words are used in English still retains the French syntax, i.e. fiancer (infinitive) --> fiancé/fiancée (passive participles used as adjectives, then as substantives).

Using sauté as an infinitive in English, i.e. to sauté is a bit bizarre. As I mentioned earlier, it's analogous to saying, "to broken" a glass. Using sauté as a verb in the past tense in English as in, "she sautéd/sautéed the vegetables," is like saying, "she brokened a glass," in light of the French syntax.

So weird. So unfixable. So pointless. Yet it needs to be brought up.


Amandine vs. Almondine

This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. Amandine is a word that indicates the manner in which something is cooked, i.e. with almonds. Almondine is an illegitimate child of French amandine and English almond and not recognized as a word despite its prevalent use. I'm pretty sure it will be soon, though. You start using a word often enough, it will eventually be included in the lexica someday. Heck, it's even found on the White House menu for the dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II and her husband back when George W. Bush was president.

Dover Sole Almondine. (sigh) If the sole was made with pecans, would you call it Dover Sole Pecanine? Peanutine? Cashewine? Maybe I'm being ridiculous for thinking this is ridiculous, but I think it's ridiculous.

Paninis or gelatos don't bother me that much. But almondine does. A lot.


Au Jus

When something is served "au jus," it means that thing is served with its own juice which has been rendered in the process of cooking. "Au" is a preposition used in conjunction with its object "jus;" it's not part of the "jus" proper. When people say, for example, "a French Dip is served au jus," they mean the sandwich is served with the jus or "juice" of the beef (for you to dip your sandwich into). And saying something like, "the sandwich will be served with its au jus," is like saying, "the sandwich will be served with its with juice."

A crude example in English would be "burger with fries."

"Fries" and "with" are not of the same substance; their relationship is purely grammatical. Saying something like, "the au jus comes with the sandwich," is like saying, "the with fries come with the burger."

In short, I'd say a pizzelle maker instead of the more correct pizzella maker, but I won't say, "give me a beef sandwich with its au jus."

Ditto with au gratin.