I was at the St. Lawrence Market, as usual for me on Fridays after work; I stopped at Whitehouse Meats and, walking past a refrigerator case, happened to notice a package with a particularly savoury bit of wording. I pulled out my iPhone and took a picture of it with the tadaa app, which takes whatever picture you take and adds extra processing – it has a variety of cute filters and frames and controls you can apply to the raw image, sort of like curing or smoking meat.
The word that especially grabbed my eye was porkhock. Just look at that and listen to that! It has this forest of stems – it looks almost shocked. The k’s bend like knees. Between, the o’s are round like hams. But the sound of it! If you have aspirations to produce a percussive word, this is your percussive word with aspirations!
Aspiration, linguistically, names the puff of air that in English follows a voiceless stop when it’s at the start of a syllable, particularly a stressed one. Hold your hand in front of your mouth and say pork. You feel the puff on the /p/. Now say porcock. You’ll probably get a lesser puff after the c. But when you add the /h/ to make it porkhock the puff becomes, if not stronger, then certainly longer.
Now, for added pleasure, take that popping, cracking compound word and add a smoky and coughing word before it: smoked porkhock. Say that a few times at different volumes, pitches, and intonations. It might even make you thirsty after a while.
I’m sure smoked porkhock could make you thirsty, too. A 100-gram serving has nearly half your RDA of salt. Sounds more like ham than like pork, no?
It’s not just that hamhock is seen and known, and not only as a character in the comic strip Tumbleweeds (well, Hildegard Hamhocker, to be more exact – the bucktoothed lass who is forever trying to drag Tumbleweeds to the altar). Generally, the pork/ham distinction rests partly on the cut of meat but more importantly on whether the meat is cured. Pork is, admittedly, the more general term; it comes to us from Latin porcus “pig” by way of French. Ham is in origins first of all a reference to a part of the leg – the part behind the knee, and extending up the back of the thigh to the buttocks. And that’s not just on pigs; it’s on people and anything else with legs with knees and a butt. But when it comes to pigs, a ham is cured – salted and smoked or dried or whatnot.
So why porkhock? Well, the point may be made that the ham only extends so far down the leg, and this bit of meat is from father down. That’s true – the hock is (or is the area up to and including) the backward-angled joint that ungulates have, analogous to our ankles but raised off the ground and with a stretch of leg before the foot proper. Hock is a Germanic-derived word that has a still-extant older form hough.
So, really, hamhock is actually the less accurate word anatomically, although porkhock is less accurate in terms of preparation. But what do you do when you have something that’s not entirely this and not entirely that? You might as well use a word that’s partially Latin-derived and partially German-derived – a word that, incidentally, is not usually even seen as one word: pork hock is the usual way it’s written when it’s written. But Wagener put it as one word on their packaging, joined together (and thereby you know that it’s porkhock that’s been smoked, not hock of smoked pork). It’s specially prepared with added flavour and saltiness. I mean the word. But also the meat. And the photo I took, too, for that matter.
So, by the way, what wine should you have with it? I would recommend hock. Which is what white German wines are sometimes called (from Hochheimer, Anglicized ages ago to Hockamore).