It was a cold evening outside and a few of us – me, Daryl, Maury, and Jess – were staying warm lounging in the sitting room of Domus Logogustationis, the local headquarters of the Order of Logogustation. Ross Ewage came out of the kitchen holding a hot toddy, holstering his iPhone and chuckling a little to himself.
Daryl pulled out his iPhone and looked at it for a few seconds. He looked up at Ross. “‘I had a stew for dinner’?”
Ross chuckled. “Yeah. Mmmm.” He licked his lips.
“I thought the point of your Twitter feed was to be dirty-minded. I mean, it’s @lewd_tongue. Who cares about your dietary habits?”
Ross looked at Daryl for a moment, probably reckoning how much younger than him Daryl was. He looked at me and Maury. “You got it, right?”
Maury rolled his body slightly in his padded armchair to partially face Daryl. “Stew is short for stewardess. It used to be a common enough term. When female flight attendants were called stewardesses.”
“And they were expected to be tasty dishes,” Ross added.
I sang a little bit of Sinatra, just to add atmosphere. “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away…”
“I get no kick in a plane,” Maury said, returning to his slouch.
“I thought of adding ‘in a stew,'” Ross said, “but I didn’t want people to think I was upset.”
“Then why would you add it?” Daryl asked.
Maury and I both turned and looked at Daryl. “Stew is also an old word for a brothel,” I said.
“Oh,” Daryl said. Brief pause. “Because there are lots of pieces of meat in the broth-el?” He made a face that was an apparent attempt to look witty.
“In fact,” Maury said, “it comes from an older sense. Stew first meant ‘cauldron’ and ‘heated room’ and, from that, ‘steam bath’; public baths were sometimes used for immoral purposes.”
“Imagine that,” Jess commented dryly.
“From the verbing of that, to mean ‘take a steam bath,'” Maury continued, “came another verb stew, meaning ‘simmer in a pot’. And from that came the noun stew meaning what we eat.”
“From which,” I added, “came the obvious metaphorical usage that Ross was trying to avoid.”
Daryl, of course, had started looking stew up using his iPhone. “I see there’s another stew with a different source meaning ‘stink’, noun or verb. It’s Scots dialect.”
“Yes,” said Maury, “and a fish tank, from the same source that gives us étui.”
“And stew meaning ‘heated room’ has apparent cognates all over the Germanic languages,” Daryl added. “Dutch stoof meaning ‘heated room’ and ‘footwarmer’…”
“That sounds good,” said Jess, looking at her feet.
“…German Stube, ‘room’…”
“As in Bierstube,” Maury said. “I could stand to be in one of those now. But I’d just as soon be sitting, I suppose, and here is fine. It stew cold outside.”
“…and Latin and Greek words for ‘vapour,” Daryl concluded.
“Well,” said Jess, standing up, “all this stewing in our stew is fine, but I feel like going and getting me a stew.”
Ross half-smirked and raised an eyebrow. “What kind?”
Jess, donning her coat, shrugged. “Irish might be nice. …Does Aer Lingus fly into Pearson?” She smirked back at Ross and, without waiting for an answer, headed out into the cold.
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