Sunday, June 1, 2014

Moldy bread, linguistics, and you.

So I was looking at bread last night (I have WILD NIGHTS) and I thought to myself: “Why do we say bread ‘goes moldy’ if it doesn’t go anywhere?” After I finished giggling at my inane banter I gave the matter some more serious thought. I hypothesized that we developed these ways of talking about food during a period after the food in question was invented (DUH) but before the process of spoilage was commonly understood. Ancient precursors to scientists observed a loaf of bread harboring colonies of mold, or raw meat being seeded with maggots and starting to rot and assumed that what they observed was simply a natural part of the life-cycle of meat and bread; the theory of Spontaneous Generation was born, and the lingo of the now-defunct theory made it into the common lexicon. (Or more likely, people with no knowledge of theories, science, or hygiene left their banana bread out too long and decided the bread killed Mildred after she ate it, and that it was part of the natural life cycle of banana bread to turn green and poisonous.)
This little thought exercise serves no purpose, I just thought it was neat the way commonly-accepted beliefs from the past can shape the way we talk about things today; we say bread has “gone moldy” even though we now know that the bread is being consumed by tiny organisms that only become visible on the macro scale long after they’ve set up shop. If asked, you might say that you talk about it that way because “it’s more natural to say it that way.” But it’s only natural to say things like that because they’re entrenched in our culture, and linguistic drift can only change so much.
I just wrote 300 words on linguistics and banana bread; I think it’s time to go to sleep now.

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