What’s in a Name?

by Fitzroy on January 16, 2009

Frederic Koeppel writes literately about eating and drinking. He also debunks the idea that anything in a martini glass is a martini, including – and maybe especially – vodka. He even debunks the idea that a martini glass is a martini glass:

Notice that I wrote “cocktail glass.” That shallow, inverted cone-shaped vessel resting on a medium-length stem on a fairly wide base — don’t want the thing to tump over — is now almost universally and mistaken referred to as a “martini glass;” even bartenders commit this error, certainly because of the wide popularity of “martinis” and “martini bars” in the 1990s and early 2000s. By what linguists call “back-formation” — “the creation by analogy of a new word in the false assumption that the existing word is a derivation of the new word, i.e., ‘to burgle’ from ‘burglar’” — the glass once known as cocktail, because cocktails were served in it, became tagged by its ubiquitous and multiplying contents. And in a further eroding of authenticity and integrity, all the drinks served in a “martini” glass are now, at least in some quarters, called “martinis.”

Woe is me.

Kids, language counts. In the beginning was the word, and if we don’t take care of words they will get all rubbed together, and jumbled together, and what we use them to name — the most important function of language — will be lost in the mists of far-off last year, poured out like dregs by marketers and flacks whose sole employ is altering what we name and what we know for commercial purposes. (Governments do this too; have you noticed?)

Yes, I did notice, and it’s enough to drive you to drink. You can’t do much about the misuse of language by politicians and governments, but you can vote with your feet when you encounter a bartender who doesn’t understand “martini.”

So when someone tells you that a martini is anything served in a martini glass, he really means that a martini is anything served in a cocktail glass. Which raises the question “what is a cocktail”? And if you persist in this line of illogic, people may begin to suggest that you run for office.

Image by Ken30684 - Creative Commons
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