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March 08, 2019  |  Friday words #162  |  247 hit(s)

I have some friends on Facebook who follow the paleo diet, and it's not unusual for them to post a picture of, say, a slab of steak with a salad or something. A paleo diet, as most people probably know, is supposed to be a diet aligned with what our paleolithic ancestors might have eaten—things you could hunt or gather. Fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts: yes. Meat: yes. Delicious buttery croissants: no, because those are the product of post-paleolithic farming. (Also, no legumes, grains, or sugar.)

I have other friends who are vegan and who also post FB pictures. Their diet involves no animal products at all. Meat, eggs, dairy: no. Fruits and vegetables, including potatoes and beans: yes.

As I recently learned, there is a thing called a Pegan diet, or paleo-vegan. If you're me, your initial reaction might be to wonder what the heck is left if you toss out what each of these separate diets tosses out. Well, as an article notes:

If you're wondering how you could both be vegan and eat grass-fed steak, the answer is simply this: you can't.

Oh. So what is is, exactly? Sounds like a low-carb diet, no-dairy, with an eye toward healthily sourced foods. Why do we need a new name for that? A nutritionist says:

If giving a trendy name to something healthy brings it to the attention of the consumer, I can't argue with that.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the lack of success I'm having with my diet is that "French-fries-based diet" isn't a good enough name.

Let us turn to unexpected and/or delightful word origins. I don't remember why, but I got interested recently in where the word cotton comes from. The history of the plant itself doesn't directly tell us. Various forms of cotton plants were domesticated in all different parts of the world, some as long ago as 4000 years ago. (The strain we mostly use today was native to Central America, who knew.)

But the word cotton does tell us a tiny bit about how the plant and its product spread. Cotton was grown in India but was unknown in Europe in ancient times. (There's a great story about how when Europeans were introduced to cotton as a product, they thought of it as wool that grew on trees, hence the German word Baumwolle, "tree wool.") Cotton worked its way westward, and Europe eventually got it via the Moorish influence in Spain. Which, finally, explains our word: cotton comes from the Arabic word qutn, which was their word for the plant. In English, we got it from French (of course), which had transformed Arabic qutn to coton.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the Arabic word al-qoton, where al is the definite article ("the"), became algodón, the Spanish word for cotton. Man, that al- prefix shows up all over the place: alcohol, algebra, alchemy, alfalfa, alkaline, algorithm, alcove, albatross. Anyway, our thanks to Arabic speakers for both the fabric and the word.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

Nancy Friedman   09 Mar 19 - 3:59 PM

The author of that story you link to, Mark Hyman, is an anti-vaccination activist whose specialty is something called "functional medicine," which has been dismissed as "quackery" and "utter nonsense." https://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2018/06/word-of-the-week-pegan.html

mike   09 Mar 19 - 5:07 PM

No endorsement from me. We just calls 'em as we sees 'em. In any event, this might be an instance of trying to make fetch happen.

Patty   11 Mar 19 - 5:26 AM

I especially enjoyed the archeological etymology of cotton, Mike. And I never thought about all those al- words! Finally, "Another interesting wrinkle": pun intended?

mike   11 Mar 19 - 9:34 AM

@patty--ha! I wasn't intended, and I didn't even see it till you pointed it out :)