The war of the noses

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Many of those who tucked into a large turkey on Thanksgiving will have fought over the tiny end part of the cooked bird. They may even have waged a religious war over its name.

In an article in June in The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, David Lipschitz recalled an old family meal. “I loved chicken skin, and remember well fighting with my sisters for the vestigial tail of the chicken or turkey, what we called the Parson’s Nose – pure fat.”

In an article last April in the British newspaper The Independent, food writer Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote: “When I was a child, chicken was what you had for best – for Sunday lunch. There was great excitement about having it and, if you were very lucky, you got the pope’s nose.”

In the same month, Bennett Kirkpatrick wrote in The News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., of “a syringe for injecting the liquid into the ‘Pope’s nose’ of the turkey’s tail.”

The expressions are certainly not new. In Tales of Old Dartmoor, a memorable 1956 episode of the British radio program The Goon Show, hero Ned Seagoon shouted, “Men, load all guns with roast turkey, with the parson’s nose outwards.” To which the villain Moriarty replied, “Sapristi, you devil! With the parson’s nose outwards? If you hit him with those, he’ll go to the bottom.”

The derogatory expression “pope’s nose” appears to have been coined in Britain as a result of anti-Catholic feeling after the reign of James II (1685-88). It was well in place by 1796, when Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defined it as “the rump of a turkey.” The expression “parson’s nose” appears to have arisen as a response, wry or otherwise, directed at the Protestant clergy. Other variations over the centuries have included bishop’s nose and recorder’s nose (after a form of British judge). It’s enough to put more than a few noses out of joint.

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Elsewhere, sound-alike words continue to cause trouble. Consider NBC’s written transcript of a segment that Today co-host Katie Couric devoted on Tuesday to the death of actor Christopher Reeve.

The text includes excerpts from a 2002 television interview in which Reeve, recalling his movie role of Superman, told Couric that he supported the superhero’s devotion to “truth, justice and the American way.” However, “the American way is a little bit confusing right now. So is the word patriotism – confusing because patriotism should not be confused with, you know, the right to descent.”

Reeve was not, as you will have divined, referring to the right of Superman to touch down after flying across town faster than a speeding bullet. He meant dissent.

“In other words,” he continued, “it’s equally patriotic to challenge what our government is doing, what our politicians are doing.”

One thing that politicians are doing, along with the rest of us, is speaking of brainstorming sessions in which ideas are generated. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell told the U.S. Senate on Oct. 6 that he worked with other politicians “to brainstorm new ideas and improvements to our oversight of the intelligence community.”

(Yes, well, we already know about a few of the intelligence community’s oversights.)

In Britain, at least one political-correctness patrol has begun an assault on this sense of “brainstorm,” a sense that dates back at least to 1925 in North America. The magazine Private Eye reports that, in a training session at the British Broadcasting Corporation, a course director told a junior manager the word was no longer allowed in its colloquial sense, because “it is offensive to those suffering from epilepsy.” She was told instead to use “thoughtshower.” It would be fascinating to read a dictionary written by that director.

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wclements@globeandmail.ca

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>