Monday, June 25, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)


When I was a kid, I heard that gelatin was made out of hooves. Cow hooves, I presumed. And, later in life, The Simpsons' Mr. Burns confirmed this belief. But when I looked up "gelatin" recently in Webster's New World, I didn't like what I saw:

the tasteless, odorless, brittle mixture of proteins extracted by boiling skin,
bones, horns, etc.; also, a similar vegetable substance: gelatin dissolves in
hot water, forming a jellylike substance when cool, and is used in the
preparation of various foods, medicine capsules, photographic film, etc.

So I kept looking. Next stop, the online Columbia Encyclopedia, where I finally found confirmation of this piece of disturbing trivia from my childhood.

gelatin ... foodstuff obtained from connective tissue (found in hoofs,
bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) of vertebrate animals by the action of
boiling water or dilute acid. It is largely composed of denatured collagen, a
protein particularly rich in the amino acids proline and

So now, with one question neatly answered, I find myself grappling another: Why did Columbia write it "hoofs" instead of "hooves"? The answer I found by going back to my first reference, Webster's, which says that both "hoofs" and "hooves" are acceptable as the plural of "hoof," but it prefers "hoofs." (Who knew?)

Of course, all these answers led me to what may be the most important question of all: Who was the first person to say, "Mmmm. Boiling skin, bones, and hooves! I bet that would be delicious with fruit cocktail!"


Brian J. Kenyon said...

Don't see a relevant comment-instigation here, but as to your recent column on apostrophe's here goes:

Great column on apostrophes in the Glendale News Press the other day. I'm a mini-reader/fan, after having read your guidebook to grammar snobbery and being inspired enough to google your name in conjunction with the word "grammar". (hm, is that a correct placement of the "."?) Brilliant deduction, eh?
Anyway, regarding your statement concerning apostrophes, there might be "...other scenarios in which the apostrophe can be so confusing that you might want to start a campaign against it."
Well, I don't know as I'm as amibtious as all that (I do enjoy my naps too), but may I suggest getting the posse back together again? The posse? Why Herb Caen's "Apostrophe Posse," of course. On behalf of whom, amid the usual "three-dotted" items, he'd print particularly egregious or amusing uses of the dreaded apostrophe.
Then, instead of going to all the trouble of organizing and implementing a campaign to stamp out the pesky apostrophe, your readers could amuse you, I, and each other with whimsical examples of the apostrophe's use they notice on billboards, legal documents, newspaper ads, or, etc.
Thanks again,

June Casagrande said...

Hi, Brian.

You have a good point. I love those compilations of real-life apostrophe abuse. There's a good blog in here showing how some people lowercase the letter "l" in otherwise all-capital words. It's hilarious:

I'd embark on a similar project but, you know, nap time ....

June Casagrande said...

I should have included a link to the column Brian mentioned:



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