Daily Archives: February 10, 2016


There is something simultaneously sweet and sour about this word. Sweet? Or delicate. Or just dull? Yet somehow lucid, clear like the cacophonous claxon of a cicada. But undeniably acid.

We do like contrasts, so long as they’re well balanced. Nor do the contrasts need to be of things utterly unlike; a simple adjustment can be enough sometimes, like the difference between the shapes of d and ci – just a little erosion. Or i and l. Or between the sound of c and the sound of c when one is before a and the other before i.

This word nearly balances. It has d and d as bookends. In the heart is a, flanked by c and c, and then beyond those l and i – so similar in shape, but not the same. But what disrupts the perfect symmetry of the experience? U, of course. As soon as we see u come into it, it has a skew – but it simply could not exist without u.

Without you. De gustibus and all that, yes; of tastes. Tastes are individual. Every word has its taste, but a different taste for each person, and for each person a different taste for each word at each moment. Nothing stays the same. It cannot be reduced to tidy numbers on a balance sheet: there is no accounting for taste.

But it can balance, even if it is not opposites (the opposite of sweet would simply be not sweet). Pick two extremes and put them together. We taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami; you can have sweet and bitter, like Italian sodas or many a romance. Or you can have sweet and sour, to pique and to please.

‘Sweet’, in Latin, is dulcis. ‘Sour’ is acid – yes, acids are sour, and sourness is the flavour of acid. Citric, ascorbic, lactic, you name it: tart. Put them together and you have lemon tarts or many a Chinese chicken dish, and you have dulcacidus. In Latin that was said like “dool ka kee doos,” but it trips differently off our tongues now as this word dulcacid, the English equivalent.

Inasmuch as it trips off tongues at all, that is. It is not much used now. We could use an erudite-sounding single word for ‘sweet and sour’, yes, but somehow this word seems a bit… dull. And acid. To us English speakers, that is. Taste may be individual, but it is also affected by your culture, after all.