We Are The Wor(l)d I
Bill Long 8/16/08
International Words from Freerice.com
The developers of the freerice.com website have increased the difficulty of their words by adding five new levels (56-60) and introducing dozens of obscure international words. One of the ironies of life is that when you "improve" something, as here, the usage on the site plummets. So, the freerice.com creators have given us bundles of new words, which should help us all understand and appreciate the world more thoroughly, but the result is that fewer grains of rice have been contributed. Why? Perhaps the novelty of the site has worn off. Perhaps, too, people realize that it takes a lot of work to make it to level 60, and most people aren't willing to expend that type of effort. As a way of demonstrating my commitment to knowing "all the words," however, I will go through many of them in the next few essays, trying to draw out of them some of their magic.
But let's begin with a word that I have written on previously but is just to good to miss: symbion, According to the OED, the chief spelling of the word is symbiont (Greek for "living together") and points to either of two organisms living in symbiosis. This is a fascinating word in the context of my recent discussion on words that break apart people or things from each other. For here, in symbiont, we have a word that connects living things. A symbiont is a commensal or something that lives in a reciprocal or reinforcing relationship with another thing. I find it fascinating that the human longing for connection or "commensality" is so strong that tons of businesses have symbiont in their names, while none, that I know of, have discerption, direption, diremption or dilaceration in them. Here are a few examples: We have Symbiont Security Services in London; Symbiont Biological Pest Management Company from NC (why is this symbiont? Not, I guess, from the perspective of the pests which will be wiped out!); Symbiont Effective Learning Solutions (I suppose that some learning is "commensal"; most, however, is individual in my judgment); Symbiont Health Care Systems; Symbiont Federal Contracting Vehicles and oh so many more. It seems that this word is an "in" word for the day, because it sounds like symbiotic, which was a cool word of the 1990s. Everyone wanted to be, as I recall, in symbiotic relationship with someone else, though no one was quite sure what this meant. I wonder what the buzz words of the second decade of this century will be. I hope symbiotic drops out..
If you grow up in the United states and only travel there/here, you tend to live a comfortable life but have a rather limited view of the world. One thing you tend not to run into are marabunta wasps. The origin of the term is "uncertain," but it describes a social wasp, "especially any of several large reddish-brown wasps of the genus Polistes" which are from Guyana and the Caribbean Islands. Well, this picture is just so fantastic that you have to look at it. Look at those eyes! Look at the color and the legs. Actually, what is most distinctive about the marabunta wasp are two things: (1) the deep transverse groove dividing the thorax into two; and (2) the contrasting aposematic (warding off) colors of orange, red, yellow, brown. So common are these wasps in the Caribbean that this article claims that "no one who has lived in the Caribbean would have failed to make the acquaintance with the marabunta." Here is how the site describes one:
"The marabunta is narrow in the waist. Its thorax is attached to the abdomen by a mere stalk. It has two pairs of membranous wings, and a mouth adapted for biting or sucking. The female has a stinger with which she paralyzes prey, and inflicts pain on humans."
The article goes on to tell us much more about these wasps and their relationship to humans--not very symbiotic, I am afraid.
Sabayon is the anglicization of the Italian zabaine; it is also known as zabaglione. The OED defines it as "a dessert or sauce made with egg yolk, sugar and white whine, whipped together, thickened over a slow heat, and served hot or cold." Vladimir Nabokov knew the word and used it in 1960: "Excellent sabayon! Should still like to know if it will be long now..." Here is a nice article on zabaglione, with pictures, by Steve Manfredi. Here are a few historical words about it:
"Zabaglione began its life as a restorative drink - in English called caudle - made from egg yolks, sugar and alcohol cooked slowly until the yolks thickened. In The Penguin Companion to Food, Alan Davidson writes: "The most luxurious of all dishes of the caudle type is zabaglione, which is generally supposed to have been invented in the early 16th century at the Florentine court of the Medici."
Marsala became the popular flavoring for zabaglione in Sicily. Here, according to the article, is advice on how to serve it today:
"These days zabaglione is flavoured with many different wines and spirits. For a very light, frothy version that's excellent as an accompaniment to poached or fresh fruit, try adding bubbly moscato or champagne. Late-picked or botrytis-type dessert wines will give a richer result, as will adding a small quantity of your favourite liqueur."
Well, we didn't get too far in our "international words" in this essay, but we made a good start. The next essay goes further.