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Thursday, December 17, 2009
‘Recipe’: Cookies, Wandering Thoughts and Challenging Ourselves
Books, books, books! Cards, cards, cards! Cookies, cookies, cookies! Ordering, shipping, ordering, shipping, ordering, shipping. Who has time to blog? But while I was up mixing cookie dough this morning and waiting for the coffee to be ready before checking the latest book order status—all this prior to getting Sarah out for a morning run, which is prior to the trip to Northport to open the bookstore--my mind began to wander once more back to childhood. Holidays seem to bring on such memory flashes, a single word sufficient to trigger a flood of associations.
A friend and I, sometime in grade school, having discovered television soap operas, loved acting out soap-operalike scenarios in our play. We had no idea what some of the words in the TV scripts meant. What was an “affair,” anyway? Never mind, we made vague accusations against each other in our imaginary courtroom. “You were having an affair with the defendant!” Playing the prosecuting attorney was always the best role, offering all kinds of room for dramatic creativity and menace: “Isn’t it a fact that...?”
Other times we played retail games--not as dramatic--and got stuck on different words. How did what we heard as something like ‘receet’ differ from the word I knew was spelled ‘receipt,’ and how was the latter pronounced? In our ignorance we treated the single word as two words, pronouncing the ‘p’ in the second, and were hazy on definitions, knowing only enough to give a slip of paper along with the item purchased.
This morning, up in the dark to mix cookie dough, I got to musing on the word ‘recipe’ and that old trickster ‘receipt’ and came to a speculative conclusion that I don’t even want to check out with a web search until later in the day, pleased as I am with my own story. I know that old-time recipe books sometimes used the word ‘receipt’ instead of ‘recipe.’ The question is, why? Here’s what I decided while melting chocolate in a double boiler: women wrote down instructions as they received them from their mothers (and others). A recipe is therefore a set of received instructions. I’ll check out this speculation later in the day but, if I’m wrong, I’m in no hurry to have my pleasing story squashed.
From there it was a short skip to thinking about Descartes and Russell and all those big brains keen on certainty. I was reading Logicomix yesterday, the fascinating graphic memoir of the life of Bertrand Russell and his search for truth and certain foundations for mathematics, and maybe that’s why I questioned myself on whether or not it was all right to believe (for a few hours, at least) my own unconfirmed word derivation story. Well, nothing hangs on it. I’m not building a bridge or investing savings or recommending surgery on the basis of my speculation. So why not? And I will check it out later.
Pace Descartes and Russell: even you experts will never be able to eliminate speculation from human thought. Not in etymology, not in science. What guides research? What determines its direction? Background knowledge and observations alone are insufficient. Even science must be fueled by passion, desire, curiosity and hunches. It is as human to speculate as it is to act.
But where did that ‘p’ come from, anyway? (‘Yclept’ comes to mind, without illuminating the question, as I cannot remember what that even means.) Did the ‘p’ migrate from one place in the word to another? And what happened to the ‘d’ or ‘t’ that should have been there? This will be my wild word chase of the day, if there’s any time to pursue it.
Sarah sets herself different challenges. Ever since she was a puppy, she has been frustrated by only being able to pick up one object at a time with her mouth. I have a short video of puppy Sarah picking up one squeaky toy, pawing a second, dropping the first, picking up the second, etc. She hasn't figured out yet how to pick up these two balls at once, but she hasn't stopped trying, either.