munch

I’m not a peever. There are some usages I’m not too keen on, but I usually don’t dwell on them, because there’s no accounting for taste. There are a couple of words, though, that get some journalistic go-ats exceeding what I can swallow – the sense stretched just too far for me. I am left with hands on face, jaw agape, a bit like a person in a rather famous painting.

Not to say I’m screaming like the figure in Edvard Munch’s famous work is. But just as the figure is surrounded by much thick swirling colour, I’m a bit overcome by rather bold strokes in the word-painting. And some rather overused terms too.

I’ve occasionally joked about making a parody of newspaper food writing; I’d call it Munching Thick Crusty Slabs. But at least in that sentence munching is being used for something that involves an audible “munch” sound, or anyway a very pronounced movement of the jaws. Which are classic components of the meaning of munch, which has been with us, in its imitative formation, since the 1400s.

We know from Chaucer and others around the time that one may munch bread, and from Shakespeare that a donkey may munch dry oats and a person may munch chestnuts. We also know, though, from Thomas Dekker in 1631 that one may munch up cheese, and from Joanne Baillie in 1798 that one may munch up plum-cake, but note that those are both munch up – add the up and it seems to connote ‘gobble’. We also know from Baroness Orczy in her 1905 Scarlet Pimpernel that one may munch grapes. But they do make some sound, do they not?

Perhaps I am being too particular. But I still remember reading a review of some brunch places in a Toronto newspaper and seeing a reference to one patron “munching on eggs,” and thinking, “Goodness, how over-fried those eggs must have been – or did they not remove the shells?” And I can look through articles in The Toronto Star from recent years and see people “munching” on “a charcuterie plate with local cheeses and ethically-sourced cured elk and beef,” “souvlaki, perogies and sangria,” and “sliders” (small burgers, in this case made using meatballs). All of which are soft things.

Well, there it is. Consumption has its risks along with its pleasures. We all munch on the foods and words we choose as we like, and sometimes we are served something that is not quite to our taste. I have opinions about food, too, after all: I like peppers only if they are hot or roasted or both; I like nutmeg only if I can’t actually notice it; I like cilantro only if it is on my wife’s plate and not mine (in exchange I get the “nasty sea insects” she abominates). That doesn’t mean they’re intrinsically bad. I just have my pertinacities, and they are relatively few. I can also get bored of clever things that are overdone – I’m tiring of heavily hopped beers, for instance, and I don’t mind if a fancy meal involves neither smoke nor foam. But on the other hand, I like a good many things that quite a lot of other people can’t abide.

Modern art, for instance. And expressionist art too. Like that bloke Edvard Munch. Poor Edvard, though: he had a rather austere, pietist upbringing, and he lost his mother and one sister to tuberculosis, or, as it was called at the time, consumption – the only kind of consumption he likely had more than enough of. There was also mental illness in the family. As he at one time wrote, “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies – the heritage of consumption and insanity.” It made for outstanding art, but I don’t mind not being him.

So I can hardly complain about a few things I’m not (so to speak) crazy about in the words I consume. And anyway tastes are such tricky things. The name Munch is pronounced like “moonk,” not at all like the nice eating word. I do wonder, if we pronounced our verb munch the same way, whether I would expect different things of its sense. Probably…

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One response to “munch

  1. In the first paragraph, “get …go-ats” is a cute word play on the idiom “get one’s goat”. For my thoughts about this idiom, see
    http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ABOUT-WORDS/2003-07/1059302269

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