Cloves and teeth

For the past few weeks, one of life's pleasures has been a certain variation on the veritable fried egg sandwich that I have been enjoying. What you do is to chop up a couple of garlic teeth (see below), a small jalapeño or similar pepper, a bit of onion, plus a squirt of olive oil, and sauter those in a frying pan at low heat until the onion is transparent and some of the garlic bits are starting to get brown. In the meantime, you take a couple of Micaela's Original Recipe California Fresh Wheat Tortillas and spread each one with some Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa and crumple a small amount of Black Diamond Cheddar Cheese on top. At about the time you slide the two tortillas into the toaster oven for 3 minutes, you pour some Nulaid Reddiegg Real Egg Product on the sofrito in the frying pan, picking up the pan and moving it so that the eggs cover a region about the size of one of the tortillas. Sprinkle a little Mexican Seasoning mix on the wet upper surface of the eggs. When the first side is done, turn the eggs over to cook on the other side. Use the spatula to cut the eggs into two half rounds. Put the tortillas onto a plate and put one half round of egg on each one, and fold the tortillas over to enclose the eggs. You can pick these up to eat (but lean over the plate), or you can use a fork if you're wearing clothes you have to see people in. This is really, really, good stuff.

Well, what about garlic teeth?

It seems to me that when it comes to garlic, there are two kinds of people: enthusiastic and reluctant. For garlic enthusiasts, you can always put in a little more; for the reluctant, you can always put in a little less. This is true for individuals and it's true of cultures.

Well, a "head" of garlic is called a clavo in Spanish, and I'm not sure what it's called in English. I just asked my wife, and she agrees that it doesn't seem to have any established name, but that she would call it a "bulb", which sounds about right to me. An individual piece of garlic is called a diente ("tooth") in Spanish, and is called a clove in English. Note that clavo and clove are similar in form and may be related etymologically, but of course the etymology of English cleave is one of those famous examples where two historically different forms become one (cleave together versus cleave asunder, both with past participle clove), plus the Latin word for nail that gives rise to Sp. clavo also becomes clove in English. Anyway, it is clear that Spanish clavo, even though translated, in the context of garlic, as clove, actually corresponds to the entire bulb, while in English, the clove is, of course, just one piece.

The etymological derivation is confusing enough that it shouldn't be too surprising that there is a difference, but what interested me was the correlation between the Spanish pro-garlic and the English anti-garlic cultural stereotypes and the amount of garlic that is referred to by the cognate words, clavo/clove.

Another way to look at this is in terms of what Eleanor Rosch called the basic level. Her idea was that even though the world can be arranged into unlimited, recursive, semantic hierarchies, some common words that are frequently used to refer to a segment of semantic space have a special salience, because they refer to a level that is particularly useful for humans: not too high up (general) in the hierarchy, and not too far down (specific) in the hierarchy. For example, dog is a basic level object, while collie is not, and canine is not. There are numerous psycholinguistic consequences of Rosch's basic level objects, and one of them is that there are certain cases where the basic level changes. For example, for non technicians, "pliers" is a basic level object, but for a technician, "needle-nose" is a basic level object. In other words, the basic level of a semantic hierarchy for a given group (and maybe even for a given individual) can adjust to maximize utility.

And finally we come to what was interesting to me about the clavo/clove dimension's correlation with the garlic enthusiasm/reluctance dimension: in both cultures, the cognate clavo/clove refers to the basic level object, but in the pro-garlic Spanish community, the basic level is the entire bulb, while in the anti-garlic English community, the basic level is one piece taken from the bulb.

Be that as it may, those omelette-tortilla thingies sure do taste good. (BTW, omelette versus tortilla is another interesting puzzle, perhaps for some future random philosophizing.)

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