Saturday, January 11, 2014

Non-trite eating

To eat is such a nondescript verb, flatly describing the physical action of putting food in your mouth and swallowing.  The English language with variety of roots and structure has countless more precise ways to describe the context and richness of that necessary act of nourishment.

Some terms add the element of time.  You have breakfast in the morning and brunch between 10-2, often on a weekend day.  You lunch (but not always have lunch) in the afternoon followed by an afternoon snack, at least for growing children.  You have dinner in the evening or a supper later in the evening dependent on whether you eat American or European style.  Of course, you can snack between meals and nosh at any time.  Depending on our activity, you may have a late night snack to hold you until the morning, when it all begins again.

Other terms add quantity. Picking at your food meets you are not very hungry. A light meal is at any time but in moderation.  If you have a bite, you eat enough to meet your energy needs as is grabbing some chow. By contrast, if you scarf your food, you eat fast while pigging out and stuffing your face imply maxing out your calorie content.

The purpose of the occasion can also be expressed in the verb.  To do lunch is meet someone for the lunch, where the main function of the mouth is actually to talk.  If you are going to have a coffee or a tea with someone, you will probably eat something with your hot beverage but the biscuit is not the purpose of sitting down.  If you munch in front of the television or after smoking marijuana, you may not even taste the snacks. By contrast, to dine is to consciously choose to enjoy food.  Even more serious, if you intend to feast, the food is the prime attraction as in a holiday dinner or birthday celebration. 

So, in some ways the word eat is like the word thing: it says so much that it says so little.

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