As a linguist (*ahem*, my day job), I hear this question a lot: "How many languages do you speak?" It's a common misperception that all we linguists do is learn to speak a lot of languages all day, and allow me to put this to rest right here and now: I am not a polyglot. Our job as linguists is not to study languages but to study language, which is the first lesson we teach to anyone who takes Linguistics 101, and while many-a-times, this might involve having to learn languages, it most certainly does not require it. In fact, even if I know something about a language, that doesn't mean that I can speak, write, read, or understand it at all, though I could probably tell you what the language's syllable structure is, or how the language might order words in its sentences--you know, pretty useless little things that wouldn't come much in handy if I actually had to hold down a conversation.
But, all this is not to say that we linguists don't do some really. cool. stuff. Take, for example, one of the professors in my department, Dan Jurafsky. Dan works primarily on computational linguistics, but one of his awesome side projects is writing about the language of food. (which, frankly, is so genius, I'm jealous that I didn't think of it myself!) Dan's written before on things like the origins of "ketchup" or what defines "dessert," and he has a paper coming out soon about the role of language in potato chip advertisements. And he teaches what I've heard is an awesome undergraduate seminar on the subject.
So, of course, one day, I approached Dan with THE hot linguistics and food question of the current day: macaron vs. macaroon. Which one is it! (and how in the heck are you supposed to pronounce the difference?) Raise your hand if you've ever pondered this question! *typing while raising one hand in the air.*
Thankfully, Dan was totally enthused about investigating the origins of the macaron/macaroon, and he's just posted his essay on the subject, after a few months of in-depth research. Apparently, the macaron/oon is related to a whole slew of desserts and foods of the almond or egg white family--from gnocchi to marzipan--and has traveled, in its various forms, through so much of Europe and the Middle East--from Persia to Italy and France--before making it to the US and becoming the coconut macaroon. But, even with its long history, the debate is still open as to whether we want to call the Parisian macaron/oon that we're so crazed about these days a macaroon or a macaron, to distinguish it from the once-popular coconut macaroons. Only time will tell! Oh, and the best part of Dan's article is that he discovered that the macaron/oon/oni might actually be related to the macarena. Heeeeeeyyyyyy, macarena, a ya! (OMG, I can't believe I still remember that dance....!)
Anyways, I thought that all of Dan's research on the macaron/oon/oni/ena should be rewarded with actual macarons. Since rosewater kept recurring in the history of the macaron, I whipped up some coconut rose chocolate macarons, with lightly flavored almond shells and coconut-rose-flavored dark chocolate ganache inside. I also couldn't resist breaking out the luster dust, after seeing all of the beautiful watercolor-dyed eggs floating about the internets for Easter.
So, the next time you meet a linguist, I implore you not to ask them how many languages they speak. Instead, talk to them about macarons. Or macaroons. Or macaroni. Ack. Never mind. Just ask them to dance the macarena with you. ...Or not. :-)
>>Go read Dan's essay on macarons!<<
Read on for recipe....