February 26, 2012

February 13, 2012

Goat dressed as mutton dressed as lamb

Some day I'll write an essay about misnaming in Indian English: the many tangled reasons which lead people in this country to use the word swan for a goose, autumn for the rainy season, and so on.  Meanwhile, here's food critic Vir Sanghvi on why mutton stands for goat meat in Indian restaurant menus.
Just as every MP begins his or her career with a lie – by saying that total electoral expenditure was under the limit – so every chef and restaurant manager who writes a menu usually starts out with a lie of his or her own. The lie consists of a description of the red meat that is used in the kitchen. Often, the menu will simply say ‘mutton’. This is a term widely used in the culinary world to describe meat from a sheep. The term ‘lamb’ is restricted to young sheep. If the meat comes from an older animal then ‘mutton’ is used. It is the sort of distinction embodied by the phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, commonly employed to describe older women who try and dress young. 
The problem, of course, is that the kitchen does not use mutton, no matter what it says on the menu. The chances are that the chef is using goat, a meat for which the term mutton is never used outside of India. Some chefs and menu writers go further with their evasions. In the descriptive line below such menu staples as seekh kebab and raan, they will use lamb instead of goat. So, a seekh kebab will be described as ‘minced lamb cooked on a skewer in the tandoor’ and a raan as ‘leg of lamb’.
The HT Brunch article can be found here

February 11, 2012

Vote Banks

With assembly elections coming up, the newspapers are full of the jargon of India's electoral politics. 'Vote Bank' is one such phrase, which refers to a bloc of voters from a social group - a caste or community or religious minority, say - which can be counted on to back a specific party or candidate consistently. But who coined the term, and how did it come into use? This column by Ramachandra Guha in The Hindu traces the phrase back to a seminal 1955 essay by the sociologist M N Srinivas titled 'The Social System of a Mysore Village', quoting the paragraph where it first appeared.
The word “party” has become a Kannada word. Every administrator and politician speaks of “party politics” in villages, and even villagers are often heard saying, “There is too much ‘party’ in such and such a village”. The coming of elections gives fresh opportunities for the crystallization of parties around patrons. Each patron may be said to have a “vote bank” which he can place at the disposal of a provincial or national party for a consideration which is not mentioned but implied. The secret ballot helps to preserve the marginal affiliation of the marginal clients.
As Guha points out, the meaning of the phrase has shifted since then, referring not to patrons and their clients, but 'a collective political preference exercised by a particular interest group'. See also the entry in Wikipedia, which adds that the meaning of Srinivas' expression was first modified by F. G. Bailey, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, in his 1959 book Politics and Social Change.