Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Rice pudding completes the meal

     "This rice pudding likes your shirt," I said, with a smile, nodding toward the round take-out container I was holding up for her to see.
     She was puzzled for a second, looked, then smiled. 
     "I get it," she said.
     We had ordered take-out for Valentine's Day, from our favorite Indian place, Tava in Morton Grove—tandori fish, chicken tikka masala, spinach, two types of nan. They had included a free dessert, in honor of the holiday. But my wife had baked a pumpkin pie, so we saved the pudding for Monday's dinner.
     "Of course it's spelled wrong," I said, looking at the handwriting on the cover, where someone had written, "Happy Valentine's Day! Complementary Rice Pudding" and added a heart. English is a difficult language to master, filled with complexities, like words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things.
     As a longtime restaurant goer, that note really impressed me. I've had take-out from Alinea, and nobody wrote anything on the containers, or the bag—someone at Tava had also penned "Happy Valentine's Day," large, on the bag. 
     I understand why most places don't do things like that. The little extra flourish takes time and, beyond that, someone has to think to do it.  Restaurants are busy, frenetic places, and just preparing the food, getting together the orders, checking that everything is included, is challenge aplenty. More than one favorite place, that we ordered take-out from mostly just to be supportive, botched the order, which I have to admit, left us a little less enthusiastic, pawing around for something that wasn't there. You should finish a meal from a place feeling grateful and satisfied, not disappointed and sympathetic.
     "Although," I continued. "Maybe they meant it was supposed to augment the meal. As opposed to being free. That would also work."
     "Complementary" means something that enhances something else. "A thing that completes or brings to perfection" another. Which speaks to its second meaning, the usual number for a group. Four players is one short the usual basketball team complement.
     And "compliment," as you know, is an expression of admiration.
     Which gives us a chance to play my Homophone Smackdown Challenge, and see which usage is older.
     "Complement," the Oxford tells us, is from the Latin, complementum, that which fills up or completes—the source being agreeableness, think, "comply-ment," and traces it to 1419. "Compliment" only goes back to the end of the 17th century, from the identical French word and Italian complimento, an "expression of respect and civility to another by words acts." The Oxford goes on a bit, but one sentiment stands out. "Compliment is thus a doublet of COMPLEMENT. (The form directly from the Latin). The latter was in use in this sense about a century before the introduction of the French word, which slowly took its place between 1665 and 1715."
     Hey, we've all been there. I wasn't familiar with "doublet" beyond being an article of clothing—a man's padded jacket—in Shakespearean times. Linguistically, doublets are twinned words, like compliment and complement, that have the same root, but proceeded through the language through different routes, and so have different spellings and meanings, like "pyre" and "fire" or "frail" and "fragile."
     But language is infinite, while people are not, so time to get on with the day. We've come very far from rice pudding, which was good, particularly with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top—though the pudding was too sweet for my wife's taste, so she set hers aside for me for yet another day. And I have to admit, my pang of disappointment that she didn't like her dessert was immediately replaced by the thought, "More rice pudding for me!" We are all but human, alas.


  1. Niles has a few bus routes through the village that are free to use.
    But for years, they were called "Courtesy Buses" & people not from Niles didn't know if they had to pay.
    Now it says "Niles Free Bus" on the buses.

  2. This is the type of piece that made me a loyal reader. Now that the orange nightmare has ended I'm looking forward to more of this and weeks on end where their name is not mentioned .

    1. FME: Did you deliberately use the pronoun "their" rather than the traditional "his," which would agree in number (and gender) with nightmare? Or is the universal use of "their" now the prescribed usage and you didn't even have to think of it to use it? I see "their" more and more these days referring back to singular nouns and my brain, conditioned by 1950s grammar, screams, "wrong," "wrong," "wrong" even though I understand the appropriateness of the usage when "he" or "she" not only wouldn't fit, but might be perceived as an insult.


    2. their as the universally prescribed usage . trying to be less assumptive . seems worth the effort. got a ways to go

  3. Is it Walgreen's or Walgreens? Since it is of the Walgreen family, it should be Walgreen's. Pay for the damn apostrophe on your signage!

  4. English is not the only challenging language out there. Is it "tandori" or "tandoori"? I can find examples of usage either way, though "tandoori" seems to be the most prevalent, as an adjective form describing food cooked in a tandoor oven.

    Getting back to English, though, my family has an ongoing practice that we call the Inconvience Watch, collecting snapshots of the many ways to butcher the word "inconvenience." This is common in apologetic and hastily-prepared notes attempting to say "Sorry for the Inconvenience" due to interrupted service, such as on malfunctioning vending machines or recently-robbed banks. (Extra credit goes to an out-of-order ATM we encountered in England: "WE APOLGOGISE FOR ANY INCONVIENCE")


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