Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sweet nothing in name

Cotton candy, that spindly confection of sugar first marketed in 1904, is loved by children (and many adults) worldwide. Originally created in the United States, it has become a part of the entertainment culture of many countries.  As for all foreign products, the challenge has been to find a name for it in the local language.  The process is interesting as the chosen focus in the nomenclature varies.

The original American product was invented in partnership by a candy confectioner and a dentist.  Apparently, even though you are paranoid, conspiracies do really exist. In referring to their new product, they emphasized its most positive trait, sweetness.  It was called cotton candy. The Japanese literarily translated the word, calling it wata ame. Curiously, the Swahili word for it, pampa pipi, also refers to it as a sweet or candy.

However, its dominant feature in its translation is its texture.  The British called it candy floss, which became fairy floss in Australia, emphasizing its thin strings. Others grabbed on its overall texture, referring to its sweet cotton wool, including in Russian, сладкая вата [sladkaya vata], Hebrew, צֶמֶר גֶּפֶן מָתוֹק [tzemer gefen matok], Italian, zucchero filato, and Spanish, algodón de azúcar, literally cotton of sugar.

Yet, a third route exists.  As cotton candy is light and airy, some cultures relate it to hair.  The French call it la barbe à papa, evoking the images of a grandfather’s beard. Similarly, the Arabic term, shaear albanat, literally meaning “girl’s hair”.

Regardless, all agree that cotton candy is sweet and airy.  All that remains open to debate, at least according to the Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Walk, is which color is the real one, blue or pink. Personally, as Rhett Butler so ceremoniously declared in Gone With the Wind,I don’t give a damn as it is way too sweet for me, whatever hue it has been given. Most people, especially children, would disagree with me and rightly so.  Life needs more sweet nothings.

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