Tag Archives: munch

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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lunch

“I have a hunch,” Maury said, “we’ve beaten the lunch bunch to the punch.”

“Yes,” I said, surveying the still-deserted food court, “we’re ahead of the crunch.”

Jess nodded approvingly. “That’s good. I hate to have to use a truncheon to approach my luncheon.”

Maury looked at his watch. “Of course, the fact that it’s barely eleven would have something to do with it.”

“So we’ll call it a brunch,” Jess said.

I shrugged. “I just want something to munch.” I looked around. “Not too many options in that respect.”

“We’re surrounded by food places!” Jess protested. “Not too many options?”

“Most of what they serve does not make an audible crunch,” I said. “I am not of that school who – like some restaurant reviewers – would use munch for eating foods such as fried eggs or mashed potatoes.”

“Or soft tacos or hamburgers,” Maury added. He looked over to his left and jabbed me with his elbow. “You could get a Double Down.”

I looked down at his elbow. “What was that?”

“A dunch,” he said. “A short sharp blow, with the elbow.”

“Well,” I said, returning to the main topic, “double down is what I want in my pillow, not on my plate – and goose down, not chicken down.”

“Well, then, what sounds tastiest?”

“So far,” I said, “unch.”

“You can’t make a meal of a phonaestheme,” Jess pointed out.

“True,” I said, “but it works the jaws and, with that final affricate, makes a sort of crunch.”

“Would you really call it a phonaestheme?” Maury mused. “Do the words all have some element of sense in common?”

“They mostly seem to have an onomatopoeic origin,” I said. “Even bunch is thought to have an imitative basis.”

“Well,” said Jess, “I don’t know that I’d be as definite as that. I seem to recall that the OED gives ‘of obscure origin’ for several of them.”

“My favourite is its source for luncheon,” I said. “It says ‘related in some way to lunch.'”

“Which, in its turn,” Maury said, “may have formed on the basis of lump the same way hunch may have been based on hump and bunch may be related to bump.”

“And then there’s the other lunch,” I said, “basically obsolete now: ‘the sound made by the fall of a soft, heavy body.'”

“A lump, perhaps?” said Maury. “Does a lurch by a lump count?”

“Well,” declared Jess, “I would like a lump of something for lunch.” She looked around again. “Holy cow!”

We looked up. In the short time we had been tasting words, lines had formed at all of the food places. Maury threw his hands up as if crying “Uncle!” and audibly collapsed onto the nearest seat.

“Well,” said Jess, “that was our ‘lunch.'”

Thanks to Gabriel Cooper for suggesting the unch words.

munch

I’ve long wanted to write a satire of restaurant reviewing called “Munching Thick, Crusty Slabs.” Except that treading through the emetically hackneyed clichés of kitchen hacks would really be too much for me very quickly: a world where every slice of bread is a slab, as many things are thick or crusty as you can possibly imagine, and one can munch eggs… or squash? I could just scream. But munch really does seem to get used ever more widely, and not just in restaurant reviewing. Apparently not everyone finds this jarring, as not everyone has a present sense of the onomatopoeic origin of this word.

Oh, it’s a word for eating, alright, with the teeth involved and the jaw visibly moving, and making a perceptible noise or at least a clear sensation of crushing; it carries the sense easily in the saying (and one may, if one will, discern some hints of teeth in the shape of the word, but of course that’s adventitious). Since the class of food most marked for its munchiness is that on which we snack, however, the sense has extended to other snackable things. Munching is apposite for snacks: the satisfaction of the crunching amplifies the effect of the food, bringing suitable satiety with less quantity. But the notion of noshing seems to supersede the sound in some quarters, so that one may be said to munch a canapé even sans crepitation.

The rhyme with lunch is unavoidable; bunch can enter in, and even hunch, but somehow punch seems to have less influence. But what words is this one seen around? Ah. Well, a look in the Corpus of Contemporary American English gives us such as Oslo, painting, museum, Edvard, and Scream. Hm! That’s the painter, Munch, whose name is not even said the same way. But he does come to mind when one sees this word. Especially if one is seeing a restaurant reviewer speak of, say, munching ice cream.