triticale

This is a crisp, hard, almost brittle word at the start, its sound glittering like a cut diamond, gleaming at the end with the /li/. The crosses of the t‘s add to the angularity, and the short high front vowels keep it clipped and quick before it opens wider into two “long” vowels (really diphthongs). For all that, it’s musical, four crisp beats in two trochees (but you may say it in a three-time rhythm), like tapping feet and perhaps a fiddle, say, at a ceili.

And why not a ceili? After all, the grain this word names was first bred in Scotland – and Sweden. Yes, it’s a cereal grain, the mule of the breadbasket: a cross-breed between wheat (genus Triticum) and rye (genus Secale) that is sterile… until treated with colchicine (I wonder if mules would like a chemical that would let them reproduce).

Triticale sounds technical, strong, important, not trite; it’s a plant with a critical trail, the first man-made crop species. And it can grow in places where wheat cannot, and it has a high lysine content, good for feeding people and animals; it’s thought of as a crop of the future, which, given that its name sounds like a planet from Star Trek, seems reasonable enough.

But how can it replace wheat? Wheat is a softer, shorter word, and we easily think of flour with it… How can something called triticale become soft flour? Why, by being triturated, of course, just as is done to wheat for the same purpose. And rye – European bread and Canadian whisky – can triticale supplant it? Well, why should it – augment it, rather. After all, triticale is an augmented-feeling word (long like the name of a Sri Lankan city, perhaps), suitable enough given that triticale grains are somewhat larger than wheat grains, though not quite as large as rye grains.

But at least the linguistic blend is Latinate. Had it been in Gaelic, it might have been something like cruithneachteagal. Of course, in Swedish it could have made veteråg, which sounds earthy – though more like a name for a troll, perhaps, than something scientific. But had it been a simple English concatenation, it may have been wheatrye, which would have been pronounced like “we try”. And of course we try – that’s how we come up with things like triticale.

2 responses to “triticale

  1. Any thoughts on canola and rape?

  2. Pingback: canola | Sesquiotica

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