Daily Archives: March 7, 2010

fungible, fungi

We were setting out some refreshments at Domus Logogustationis for our monthly Words, Wines, and Whatever tasting event. Maury had paused to scrutinize a piece of truffled Gorgonzola.

“I believe this is a bit mouldy.”

I peered over. Elisa, ready to hand, made a funny face. “It’s supposed to be! It’s blue cheese!” she said.

“Yes,” said Maury, holding up the offending wedge, “but there is the mould in the cheese and the mould on the cheese. Moulds are not fungible.”

“Ironically,” I said.

“Why ironically?” Elisa asked.

“Because they’re fungi,” Maury said, pronouncing it “fun-jye.”

“Fungi?” Elisa said, saying it “fun-guy.”

“I am often thought one such, thank you,” Maury replied.

Elisa was about to say something, the caught herself and gave Maury a light swat. “Ha ha. But you said ‘fun-jye.’”

“Well, yes,” said Maury, “I was going with the usual way of saying anglicized Latin terms. We don’t, after all, say fungible with a velar g. Or pretty much any other similar Latin-derived word, except for fungi, which has both options available.”

“They’re fungible,” I said.

Fungible,” Elisa said, pondering. “That’s a fun word. Sounds a bit like spongeable.”

“Fittingly,” said Maury, “since the word fungus comes from the same Greek word that gives us sponge.”

“But fungi aren’t sponges,” Elisa said.

“Nope,” I said, “sponges are part of the animal kingdom. Fungi are their own kingdom.”

“So does fungible relate to fungus?” Elisa asked.

“No,” Maury replied, “it’s just a coincidence of sound, though it might have been the basis for various Latin puns. Fungible comes from fungi vice.” Maury gave the classical pronunciation – like “foonghee weekeh” – and then repeated the term with the old British-style version, like “fun-jye vie-see.”

“To take the place of or fill the office of,” I translated. “For things that are fudgeable. Break one glass and you can use another similar one in its stead. A dollar is a dollar. And so on. If any item of the type will do, it’s fungible.”

Fungi vice!” Elisa giggled, saying it like the name of a mushroom cop show. “Maybe we should call the fungi vice squad on this piece of cheese.”

“It might gorgonize them,” Maury said.

“They might gorge on it,” Elisa riposted.

“Hey,” I said in a tough-guy voice, “We ain’t lookin’ for truffle.”

“Another kind of fungus,” Maury pointed out. “Also not fungible.”

“We ought to have mushrooms here to add to the fun, guys!” Elisa said. She tittered a bit at her pun.

“I’m always leery of mushrooms,” Maury said.

“Timothy Leary?” I asked.

“His kind of fungus was more ergot than psilocybin, I think,” Maury said (ergot is a mould related to LSD), “but it was the latter kind that struck home to me just how fungible fungi aren’t. I knew a fellow in my college days –” (I interjected “Mycology?” but Maury continued) “– who wished to procure some of it for hallucinatory adventures, but he found it unavailable. Someone he knew said he could get him some Amanita muscaria instead, another mushroom for trips. Unfortunately, the Amanita he got was phalloides.”

“Ooo,” I said.

“Fotunately for him,” Maury continued, “he realized soon enough that he wasn’t tripping, and so he took a trip instead to the emergency ward. Saved his life. If he had waited until he had developed cramps a couple of days later, he would likely have died of liver failure within the week.”

We paused. Then looked at the truffled Gorgonzola. There was indeed a small spot of surface mold. “Keep or toss, then?” I asked.

Maury took a cheese knife and sliced off the offending part, then placed the rest on the tray. “It won’t kill us.”