Down One at the Dep’t of Terminology

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1256)  While in Chicago for law school I lived on the Near North Side.  This was not meant as a defection from Hyde Park my childhood home, just closer to school.  Going to Antioch instead of the University of Chicago for a baccalaureate had already made me a Black Sheep, and then Northwestern U. law school instead of U. Chicago compounded the – but that’s another story.

Anyhow, nearby was a multi-level something, with an open core, turned into shops.  One was Fong’s Bakery, run by a Chinese woman named Fong Chu (Fong being the surname, placed first Chinese style).  She sold perhaps two dozen Chinese bakery goods, helpfully labeled in Chinese and English.  I brought friends there.

Among the goodies – or baddies– were po-luo pao, pineapple buns (another way of writing spells that word bao, like Peking and Beijing for the Chinese capital).

The buns had no pineapple in them.  This perplexed my friends.  “Where,” my friends asked poor Ms. Fong, “is the pineapple?”

Just as perplexed she answered, more politely than I paraphrase here, “Pineapple?  What pineapple?  Why should there be pineapple?”  This could go on awhile.

Eventually it emerged that they were called pineapple buns – indeed how they’re known to Chinese – not because they contained pineapple, because they looked like pineapples.  The tops are brown and cross-hatched.

Long an amateur terminologist, I was training to be a professional terminologist.  The Pineapple Bun adventure stayed in mind.

In Whittier the other day I was admiring the Lou Henry Hoover fountain at Beverly and Norwalk Boulevards.  She (1929-1933) was the wife of President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964; in office 1929-1933), whom she met in their undergraduate days at Stanford; she went with him to China in 1899 and became fluent in Mandarin; she had many ties to this California town.  Across the street was a Starbucks shop.  A sign there said “Try our new octopus cookies.”

I asked “Are they made with real octopus?”

“No, they’re just shaped like an octopus.”


6 thoughts on “Down One at the Dep’t of Terminology

  1. The Japanese have melon-pan, buns which just look like melon — they’re pretty close to pineapple buns.

  2. When my son was younger he was astonished to find out that fish sticks were actually made with fish. (That’s when he stopped eating them.)

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