Daily Archives: June 2, 2011

Okanagan

A few weeks ago I was in the Tasting Tower at Summerhill liquor store in Toronto, an excellent place to give oneself an education in whiskey and wine (and to help pass the time, but don’t cause no accidents – after two samples, it’s “Baby, step back” with a light foot). I was rather amused, and my curiosity was piqued, at the sight of a bottle of Irish whiskey named O’Kanagan.

Oh! Come again? The name on the bottle is in all caps, too (see http://www.vinexx.com/Vinexx/Toorank_Distilleries.html), so the visual connection is immediate for most Canadians (especially western Canadians): Okanagan. As in the Okanagan valley in British Columbia.

Now, Okanagan sounds like “oak a noggin,” and since a noggin is (aside from being one’s head, in a usage parallel to mug for the same) a small cup or a small amount of alcoholic beverage, and since whiskey is often aged in oak (I believe O’Kanagan is, but I’d have to go back and taste it again to say for sure), this may seem appropriate enough. But, on the other hand, make it O’Kanagan and you’re most likely to shift the accent – to make the rhythm like that of “O Canada.”

But, hey, that’s the name, right? There’s an Irish family named O’Kanagan, so…

No, actually, it doesn’t seem there is. O’Kanagan Irish Whiskey is made in Ireland, true, but made for and branded by a Dutch company, Toorank. And it seems to be targeted at the Canadian market. And I can’t find any evidence of any actual Irish family named O’Kanagan.

It would be a funny coincidence if there were, anyway. Okanagan is not an Irish word. It’s from the First Nation (aboriginal, American Indian) people who were there first (and still are there, along with lots of other people by now). There’s some debate over its etymology, but it seems that (like oak a noggin, by coincidence) the source word contains a root meaning “head” – or “top end”. It may be “looking towards the upper end”, “seeing the top”, “transport towards the top end”, or something like that. It could refer to a local mountain, but it could also refer to the point on the Okanagan river, just below Okanagan Falls, that is the farthest up the river that salmon go when spawning.

Anyway, the current word is somewhat altered from the source (and the spelling Okanagan was set to differentiate it from the American place names spelled Okanogan). But its original sense and form are immaterial to most people who go there now. The word is agreeable as it is (OK and then some, a real AAA piece of work), with its opening O! like Oklahoma and the tongue then doing a double back-front touch, and it brings clear images to the minds of those who know it. Going up to the Okanagan is a retreat to a sunny vacationland with beautiful scenery, watersports, and lots of luscious things.

I mean fruits and berries. When I was a kid, it was a place for peaches (there’s even a town called Peachland) and similar succulents. It still is, but, as Wikipedia somewhat bitterly misphrases it, one of the fastest-growing industries in the Okanagan is “the ripping up of orchards and their replacement by wineries and vinyards” (I’m fairly sure that ripping out the orchards is not itself the fast-growing industry). Yes, if you’re having an oaky noggin in the Okanagan, it will most likely be a taste of one of the region’s many wines (not whiskeys), some of which are outstanding and most of which are at least quite good.

Indeed, not only wine production but wine touring as well is a staple of the economy there. And ever since I showed my wife Aina the region a few years ago, she’s been saying, “Oh, can we go again?” But gladly. So we made sure to stop through there on our latest trip west and visit a few more wineries. (See http://www.flickr.com/photos/sesquiotic/sets/72157626748240883/.)

But you do have to be careful – the wine can go right to your head! (And you might knock your noggin.)

spatchcock

Comic books have quite the variety of means of communicating violent sounds. They’re always in capitals, of course: WHAAAM, SLISH, THUNK, KHWOORMF, AKA-AKA-AKA… really a nearly endless variety of nonce onomatopoeia. It’s the print equivalent of the Foley artist’s job.

You know what Foley artists are, right? They’re those guys who create the sounds you hear in movies and TV shows when assorted things happen – a door is slammed, a person walks up stairs, someone gets punched, a slasher rips someone open… They accomplish some of this with little doors, pairs of shoes on wooden platforms, pieces of wood and/or leather; they also use more organic matter when it produces the best sound. Like in some horror flick. That disgusting sound made when a person is ripped apart might have come from, say, a chicken (ready for cooking) being roughly handled. Imagine the scene of gross horror that could take its sound from a chicken having its backbone ripped out and then slapped flat on a grill.

And now imagine what sound a comic book might use for that sound. Even a comic about a Foley artist. Or perhaps a comic book about a chef. After all, that is a way of preparing a chicken – ripping (or, well, cutting) the backbone out and laying the chicken flat on its inside for roasting. Do it in violent kung-fu style, and you’ll get quite the sound effect:

SPATCHCOCK.

Which just happens also to be the word for doing that to a chicken. (Butterfly is also used, and what a different word that is!) It’s a kind of preparation method that can produce quick results, since the chicken is flat – you can grill it rather more quickly than you could roast it intact. The whole thing may have a sort of quick-and-messy air to it. Certainly the word does, with the same kind of effect as slapdash or hatchet job. The incoming hiss /s/ has the effect of something speeding towards a surface, and the remaining consonants are all percussive, with a rebounding second syllable, but there’s that affricate right in the middle suggesting a mess…

Small wonder that spatchcock is also used to mean a quick stitch or patch job on something, a slap-together hackle-schmackle – an inappropriate interpolation of material in a text. Slapping it in like slapping a spatchcocked chicken on a grill.

And where do we get this sloppy word? Seems reasonable enough that the cock should refer to a chicken, and, come to think of it, spatch is short for dispatch, isn’t it… Such an easy surmise, so it’s no surprise that it was the commonly given etymology for a long time. But there is no conclusive trail of evidence to prove it. And there’s an older term (at least 200 years older), spitchcock, which is a means of preparing an eel (cutting it into short pieces and dressing it with bread crumbs and herbs). It’s very unlikely that the two words are unrelated, and no one really knows (yet) what the origin of spitchcock was. It’s kind of a mystery – a sort of horror mystery, really. Like from Hitchcock.