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12 Words Etymologically Related to the Sense of Taste

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We experience the world through our senses, so it makes sense that our language should reflect those senses. This group of words traces back to the basic elements of taste: sour, bitter, sweet, and salty.

1. EAGER

The word eager goes back to the French word aigre, meaning sour. In English, it first took on the sense of sharp, biting, or severe. Then it took on the sense of intense or impatient, which developed into the “ready to go!” sense we know today.

2. VINEGAR

Vinegar also goes back to aigre—vin aigre, or sour wine. That’s what vinegar is, after all.

3. OXYGEN

In the 18th century, when scientists discovered oxygen, they thought of it as the element whose main characteristic was its role in producing acids. The word oxygen was formed from Greek roots to mean “acid generating.” The German word for it—sauerstoff (sour stuff)—was also formed on this idea.

4. ACERBIC

Latin acerbus meant harsh, bitter, or exceptionally sour-tasting. It’s the root of acerbic, which means in a bitter or cutting manner.

5. EXACERBATE

Exacerbate also goes back to acerbus, meaning to “make intensely bitter” or, more generally, to worsen.

6. MYRRH

Myrrh is a bitter-tasting tree resin used in perfume and incense. The word comes from a Semitic root meaning bitter

7. LICORICE

Licorice goes back to ancient Greek glykus, meaning sweet. It’s also the root of glycerine and glucose.

8. DULCIMER

The name of this mellow stringed instrument was formed on Latin dulce melos, or sweet melody.

9. ASSUAGE

When you assuage, you soften or mitigate. It goes back to Latin ad suavis, or “to sweet.” 

10. SALARY

A salary, was originally, in ancient Rome, a salarium—money given to soldiers for the purchase of salt.

11. SAUSAGE

Sausage, a tube of cured meat, goes back to salsus, meaning salted.

12. SALAD

Salad, which can now refer to an unseasoned pile of vegetables, also comes from the idea of “salted.” 

All images courtesy of iStock.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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