mutton

A nose by any other name would smell…

I was off ‘birdin’ today. Muttonbird chicks, the burrow-dwelling young of the short-tailed shearwater, have been a mainstay of the Islander’s diet since the first sealer settlers. It is a very fatty meal, which tastes something like a mixture between sardines and chicken. They’re quite… fragrant, especially when cooked.  You can fit in around here without catching them or eating them. You can fit in, in a bar drinking diet soda. It’s possible.

I like eating them, and like being accepted into a very ancient hunter-gatherer tradition, which suitably horrifies urban folk who buy battery-raised chickens without a thought.  Relatively few people get bitten by the deadly snakes that also live on them, and can be found in the holes you have to stick your hands into.  

It’s… different.

But one thing they ain’t is ‘mutton’. Silverfish, starfish, jellyfish, shellfish, cuttlefish aren’t much in the fish line either.

Words… borrowed to describe things they’re not.

I was amused to discover the other day that ‘Woke’ (as in ‘get woke, go broke’ rather than ‘she woke with a bad start. If only she’d been sober the night before it might have been a better start.’) had begun its existence as a term denoting superiority and achievement (at least in the minds of those who felt they had got there). It’s already a long way down the slippery slope of being a term of absolute derision in the minds of most folk by now.

I believe the woke now want to get rid of Shakespeare, because of the usual woke ‘reasons’ – whatever it is this week: racism, sexism, white supremacy, whatever – whatever hasn’t worn out its ‘magic’.  That’s a pity because in reality none of those things 1)are good things 2)have any relevance to Shakespeare’s value, and thus they will soon come to understand the meaning of ‘a rose by any other would smell’, without any benefit from knowing where it came from, or, likely, learning from it before you did it.

Many unappealing fish (looking or named – and sometimes tasting) were given ‘marketing’ names to get the public to try them. And herein lies the key. The fish that had an awful name or even appearance before they turned into fillets, but actually tasted good, benefited by the process. Many a fish sold under names like ‘butterfish’, or lemonfish or ‘flake’ or ‘silver’ are popular as a result of this deceit – and that is because they are nice eating and people like the taste. They just weren’t up for buying things that were called ‘snotty’ or looked like nightmares.

Of course where it doesn’t work, is when no matter how much of a pleasant-sounding name they steal to market it under, the fish isn’t good eating.  The modern ‘woke’ are following in the tradition of Apartheid government who tried to hide their policies under a sequence of high and noble sounding names, and were then amazed that that these fooled no-one and were rapidly regarded exactly as the previous one… only taking the new appropriated name down with them.

Like ‘gay’… which originally meant brave and cheerful – Clan Gordon were ‘the gay Gordons’ – a term of respect and admiration for their high courage and demeanor in danger.  The term got used for a different ‘marketing’ purpose. And now calling them the ‘gay Gordons’ would… not be considered shall we say, the same way. The trouble with appropriating a name for marketing reasons, is that unless you have something good to ‘sell’ all you do is shift the meaning of the appropriated word to mean whatever the original term was.  If a fish tastes like snot, it’s still going to be unpopular, even if you try to sell it as lemonfish – and lemonfish pretty soon comes to mean ‘tastes of snot’.  The value of the good name is rapidly brought to level of the weakest product.

 Then it doesn’t work. In fact it works against you and against the original perhaps valid and valuable sense of the word.  Like the ‘value’ and reputation of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘homophobia’ and ‘white supremacy’ with the little wokies who cried wolf … ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘homophobia’ and ‘white supremacy’. These are real things and real problems… sometimes. When you call anything you don’t like that, it soon just comes to mean ‘I don’t like you.’ That’s… a real problem for the real victims of the same.

As a writer, I’m rather aware of the power of powerful words. It really angers me to see them appropriated for what is effectively ‘marketing’ when that is going to… fail at that marketing, and take powerful words and make them weak and worthless. I am really not sure how to effectively counter it, though. Suggestions welcome.

But tomorrow I’ll go diving for muttonfish, (Abalone. Not much like mutton either)

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

33 comments

  1. One of the things I learned relatively recently is that kiwifruit are precisely the beneficiaries of such a renaming. I had always assumed they were some native New Zealand thing that someone in the 1970s or so managed to cultivate and grow. I’m fairly sure they don’t taste anything like a kiwi though

    Turns out that actually kiwi fruit originate in China and were once known as Chinese Gooseberries although it is true that quite a few of the more popular varieties were created in NZ. They also appear to be fairly easy to grow and (this is what caused me to learn about the fruit) there’s major kiwifruit production in Italy.

    1. Kiwifruit (such a lovely, improbable fruit they are too: a brilliant green hidden inside a hairy brown rock) also demonstrate how foods can go in and out of fashion.
      I remember back in the late 80’s – early 90’s (IIRC) they were intensely fashionable in fancy cooking magazines and shows. They looked great, they tasted great, you could do nifty things with kiwis, and best of all, they were expensive enough and scarce enough that they remained special.

      Once you could buy kiwis by the pile down at the Bi-Lo, the aura of specialness vanished.

      The fruit, however, remained the same. Yummy, lovely, and improbable.

      1. Indeed – when I was stationed in Japan, we could get them (at considerable expense) in the local Japanese supermarket. They were lovely, especially in combination with strawberries.
        Now they are available everywhere, and even in a yellow variant, which is equally delicious.

  2. And of course mutton itself is falling down the slope of distaste because more people prefer lamb which is less strongly flavored and generally tenderer So now stuff that used to be called mutton is called lamb….

    1. Not exactly new. Many old works refer “mutton dressed as lamb” when talking about a woman feigning being younger than she is — hardly likely as a metaphor when it’s not a literal thing as well.

      1. Mutton dressed like lamb is a wonderful phrase. Back when adult women weren’t supposed to dress like teenagers, it meant even more because lambs weren’t supposed to dress like older, sophisticated, worldly women. Have you read Linda Przybyszewski’s book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish? Great book. Look at the color plates #27 and #31 for a prime example. An adult woman looking stylish and hot in 1955 and then dressing like a three-year-old in 1969. These are sewing patterns so presumably, real women sewed them.

      2. Mutton dressed as lamb is a phrase I first encountered in a Kipling story. But it was clearly well known and not coined by him

    2. Yes, but it’s totally legal in the US to sell any age of sheep’s meat as “lamb.” (To be fair, it used to be prohibited in the US to sell any kind of adult sheep meat, because for some reason the government didn’t like mutton. So at least it’s not going to waste. And I think adult sheep are tenderer than they used to be.)

      1. Well, the thing is, only the foreign devil cultures are really into eating sheep.

        Part or all of the American/North American Protestant cultures diverged from European Protestant and European Catholic cultures.

        One of the divergences was into raising a lot of cattle, and very few sheep. Hearsay is that sheep carry a pathogen that gets into the soil, and is bad for cattle, at least in North America. Hence, range maggots.

        During the nineteenth century, the rail roads and the big southwest/mid west/west cattle ranching operations meant that a lot of beef could be shipped back east. People got out of the habit of eating sheep. Cotton also meant that relatively few sheep were being raised for wool.

        Later generations of immigrants kind of brought back the custom. I think after WWII, when wealth levels made the possible waste of growing sheep more tolerable. Last bit is suspicion.

        Anyway, I tend toward hardline and extreme foreign policy views. Including a theory that holds that a combination of land use and how a population culturally deals with outsiders, can justify certain treatments of the population. I feel slightly that the British are devils, and should be exterminated, because cattle are the only domesticated animal that should be grown on ranges. Such talking points a) show you who really believes in freedom of speech b) mean that people look like idiots when they try to push the idea that less extreme policy positions are racist. 🙂

        Notice also, how few Brits will show up arguing, with a straight face, that my degree of hostility has been profoundly troubling in their personal lives, dating back to early childhood. Of course, most of the Brits here are older than me, and I wasn’t born with anglomisic opinions. 😀

        1. As an Englishman who may be older than you or may not I can honestly say that your hostility is a matter of total unconcern. All it, and your almost as risible dislike of sheep*, shows is that America is not lacking in poorly mannered loudmouthed fools (but then again the screen name was a bit of a hint).

          *Sheep have been bred for anything but brains which makes them extremely annoying, but at least they are generally smaller than you and so less likely to cause you significant pain (though rams horns can be nasty). Cattle are just mean and big enough that they can really hurt if they want to

          1. Out in parts of Texas and New Mexico (past the edge of civilization 😉 ) there are heritage breeds of sheep that are, alas, somewhat smart. Or perhaps cunning enough to survive would be a better description. They’re still sheep, however, and remain inclined to be foolish in large numbers, all at once.

          2. Bob is also referring to the “range wars” of the West, when people who fenced land (for crops or sheep), or fenced off water, fought with people who raised range cattle.

            1. Little bit that, the indians were not exactly traditionally /shepherds/, the actual fighting in the US over that stuff was between mostly white Americans who had very different ideas about land use.

              (I understand that even the eastern part of the US has no idea how important water politics are to the western US.)

              Main intent was more my extremist foreign policy theory that starts from “how dare you try to shame me for a past failure to have a state of peace, when you haven’t shown that peace was realistically possible”, and then travels gleefully down the slippery slope to “how can we know that any two mutually alien populations can be at peace in the future” and “issues like big endien and little endien binary encoding are plausible grounds for differences that would result in a war of extermination”. IE, I was way overstating things, due to a combination of a bad mood and my fundamental silliness.

  3. I understand that abalone properly prepared and cooked is quite delicious. So much so that in the U.S. we have had to put restrictions on how many and what size one may harvest them.
    Looking back I feel privileged to have been involved in a small way with the Sad Puppy kerfuffle, those attacks and slanders gave those of us a foretaste of what has become woke standard operating procedures.
    It also lead to several of our female compatriots becoming known as misogynist, racist, homophobic, Mormon, neo-nazis with great racks. Thus setting our standard response to woke attacks to be mockery and ridicule.

    1. You left off the “white male” adjectives that should be in front of “Mormon”.

  4. Growing up in La Jolla, people used to dive for abalone all the time. It was dinner. Good stuff. And, yes, now there are restrictions on it.

  5. “You can’t call it kaffir corn [a type of sorghum] or kaffir lime any more!”
    Me: “Why not?”
    Them “Because those are pejoratives!”
    Me: “Against whom?”
    Them: blink, blink
    Me: “Us. You know, non-believers. Pass me the limes, please.”

  6. Oh, on piscatorial marketing – John Dory, which my parents grew up calling Jewfish. No idea what it’s called now.

    1. Lots of terms like that used to float around! My dad (86) told me that back in North Dakota unshelled Brazil nuts (the only kind) were called nigger toes.

  7. Because kids are awful…

    One of the classics is the ever changing proper term for children/people with developmental disabilities. No one should be cruel but changing the words used doesn’t change the thing. How long did it take for “special” education to become a pejorative? Two weeks? And you know that way back when someone said, don’t call these people idiots or morons, they’re simply retarded. Because that was much better, to say that someone was just a little slow. Now you might lose your job for using that word. People go round with disabled and handicapped on a regular basis, too.

    The words don’t define cruelty though. Be kind. Everyone should be kind.

    Which brings us to people who use all the very BEST words, but are cruel, yet don’t recognize it because they are completely up to date. Often “woke”. Frankly.

    I’d never thought of changing words as marketing. Darned if that doesn’t hit it on the nose, though. Lots of other things, too.

    1. Being kind is very overrated.
      It’s a large part of what has brought us to this treacherous societal pass.

      Christ himself was often unkind.

      And I know with certainty that I’ve done more harm with misplaced kindness than I ever did by being cruel.

      Be Good.
      Do not mistake Kind for Good.
      Good is frequently unkind.
      Kind is frequently aiding and abetting Evil.

      1. I understand what you’re getting at but I’m not sure that I put the *performative* weight on “kind” that you do. Maybe we should say to be gracious, instead? Behave with grace?

        The problem I have with “good” is that telling someone to be good has the same pitfalls, ultimately, as telling someone to be “kind” does.

        1. Should you be gracious to someone damning you for racism?

          To someone saying your life doesn’t matter?

          To someone demanding that you bend the knee to their wokeness?

          No.
          You should not.

          Seek truth.
          Pursue justice.

          1. Yes, you should be gracious, even in your seeking of truth and pursuit of justice. If someone’s actions can be interpreted charitably, do so.

            Being gracious, however, does not mean being an idiot.

            1. Or responding predictably to rote assertions of wrong doing or wrong thinking.

    2. It doesn’t seem very likely that someone with Down’s is going to be troubled much over abstract nuances of word choice in describing the situation.

      They may notice when someone sadistic is insistent on involving them in word games.

      I heartily condemn this idea that no one has standing to be left out of the word games. The inner party types insist on our participation, everything inside the party, nothing outside the party, etc.

      Sure, academic ‘scholarship’ has been produced which purports to show a theoretical correctness to the word games.

      Quite a lot of people can see how the word game players are acting, even without personal ability to stay on top of the theoretical mumbo-jumbo. You do not have to be smart enough to win a talking fight with them to be able to know what is going on.

      Controlling cruel impulses is sound. But, like Luke says, ‘Good’ and ‘Kind’ are different things. It is the desire to be kind that is sometimes abused to convince people to enable some of these wicked word games.

    3. Your kids talk about having to ride the short bus? Mine did and it wasn’t complementary.

  8. I’m still in the process of waking up this morning, and am currently troubled by the observation that the ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ was obviously purely motivated by anti-Chinese racism, so this ‘community based policing’ people are calling for to replace Peel tradition methods may well include torture as means to obtain evidence or as means of punishment. Troubled in this case means I think it is fantastic trolling, and disagree with at least three related positions that people assert. (Also, the person who produced the final bit of inspiration is someone I like, and neither her nor the venue really deserved having the key disagreement thrown in her face in that way. I’m not quite alert or adjusted enough to let go of the idea, even if I did drop the idea of responding in the original venue.)

    Part of waking up for me is taking allergy medicines, then waiting for them to take enough effect, and for my sinuses to drain enough, that my thinking doesn’t have a noticeable level of impairment. Not sure what is going on, but after many years I learned that certain sensations match situations where my thinking is poorer than usual.

    Anyway, my position on fish meat and to a lesser extent bird meat is ground up or processed into patties or sticks, then breaded and fried. I have extreme problems with heavy metals, so I wonder how much of my aversion to fish is subconsciously realizing that the mercury was an issue. (Took me years to realize that the dislike of going outside was related to pollen allergies.)

    Sheep meat is something which, for reasons of chosen cultural values, I consider unfit for human consumption. I have relatives, likewise out of American cattle/dairy culture stock, who do eat it.

    I think most here would hate eating according to my dietary preferences, compulsions and special needs. A fair amount of the time I enjoy a monotonous diet, but sometimes it gets too much even for me. Some of the restrictions are intended to be functional, to make the sinuses a little less sensitive.

    1. Idiots.

      The ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is something we inherited from England.

      Part of it comes from the punishment inflicted on a real asshole of an Englishman. He had been involved in some very nasty shit but had never been convicted of any of it. Well, he finally got convicted of some lesser crime but the punishment handed down fit the crimes that he was never convicted of (not the crime that he was convicted of).

      Afterward, wiser people decided that action was a mistake so the ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ was created.

      1. Paul, this is more my idiocy than anything else. The 1619 folks, and the community policing folks, aren’t explicitly kicking up a fuss over cruel and unusual punishment. The third position is actually defensible, and likewise is one where I’m finding a ‘poison pill’, but the same poison pill is much further away from the standard/reasonable lines of thought.

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