Tag Archives: Bundt

calque & loanword

“Long time no see!” Marilyn exclaimed untruthfully as I approached. “Here,” she said to Edgar, handing him her plate so she could hug me, “take the cake.”

“No,” he leered, taking it, “you take the cake.”

“You both – unh – take the cake,” I said, as Marilyn crushed me against her leather-clad bosom.

At this point Maury happened by. “I’d say you take the calque,” he said.

“Oh,” Marilyn exclaimed, releasing me, “is this cake a calque?”

“No,” he said, “it’s a chiffon cake. Made in a Bundt pan.” He made it, so he would know.

“Which makes it two loanwords,” I pointed out.

“Indeed. But takes the cake is, arguably, a calque – from the Greek. The phrase translates directly from the Greek in Aristophanes.”

“Surely,” Edgar interjected, swallowing, “the Greeks were not the only people to use cakes as prizes. The term could have come up independently.”

“Indeed it could have,” Maury said, “like your Adam’s apple. But not like Adam’s apple.”

“A calque from the French,” I said, with a smiling nod: “pomme d’Adam.” (Marilyn leaned over to Edgar and murmured something which I suspect was “I’ll French your Adam’s apple!”) “And,” I continued, “long time no see is a calque from Chinese, exactly word for word. In Mandarin, it’s hao jiu bu jian. Though hao in most contexts would be translated as ‘good.'”

“‘Good time no see’?” Marilyn cocked her head. “That would sound rather impolite. And unfortunate: not seeing a good time.” She gave a calcareous, calculated grin and traced a seam on Edgar’s jacket with her red-polished fingernail.

“Tracing is the origin of calque,” I said, trying to keep their pursuits in the intellectual realm. “French calque, noun, ‘copy,’ comes from calquer, verb, ‘trace,’ which itself traces back to Latin calcare, verb, ‘tread.'”

“Well, it may look like an elegant word,” Marilyn said, “with the que and that nice c to start, but it sounds like a cat coughing up a furball. Especially if you underpronounce the /l/. I’m glad this cake isn’t a calque.”

“You’re not alone,” I said; Maury finished my pun: “But it is.” (A loan, of course.) “Chiffon, as James pointed out. A French word originally meaning ‘rag’ but coming to mean a light, diaphanous fabric. And by transference from that, light and fluffy pies and cakes.”

“In this case, as made by Maury, Bundt,” I added, and got a low-lidded look over the lenses from Maury, who did not wish more moribund jokes. But I simply said “From German for ‘turban.'”

Loanword,” Edgar said, rolling it on his tongue. “There’s a nice English formation, ironically. Loan plus word, both great old Anglo-Saxon four-letter monosyllables. Low and liquid, almost moaning, so unlike calque.” Marilyn responded predictably to this: she became lower and more liquid and almost moaned as she creaked her leather garments against his while taking their pieces of dessert and setting them on a side table behind him. Maury’s eyes rolled… rolled away and he followed them.

“Even more ironic,” I said, trying valiantly to maintain a conversation. “Loanword is actually taken from German Lehnwort.”

Marilyn looked up abruptly. “So it’s a calque!”

“Yes,” I said, “and calque is a loanword.”

“A semantic exchange,” Edgar said, cocking his eyebrow. “An exchange of tongues, as it were.” (Marilyn murmured, audibly, “As it will be…”) He smiled. “That takes the cake.”

Marilyn reached for the side table and came up empty. “Speaking of the cake,” she said, “where is it?”

“Maury took it,” I said, not without schadenfreude, and headed off to get my own piece.



Thanks to Wilson Fowlie for suggesting this pairing and the amusing twin ironies it presents.


I stopped by my friend Maury’s place the other day just as he was anticipating the results of some baking. As I entered, I thought I caught a whiff of scorched cake. I ranged myself against a counter to watch him exhume a fluted tube pan from its crematorium. As Maury inverted the Bundt cake – what was left of it – on a rack, I opened my mouth to comment, and he turned and said, tensely, “Don’t-even-say-it.”

But moribund has a certain something to it, doesn’t it? It seems to have more rebound than some words (even if its objects have missed their final rebound), with the lips–tongue–lips–tongue, and nasal–liquid–stop–nasal and stop. If you say it in the usual fashion, with the i lax and underpronounced, it’s quite dominated by some of the more sepulchral vowel sounds we have, especially with the nasal. It’s a word headed for death, and stopping at the [d] (because I could not stop for death, it kindly stopped at d…). Of course, it’s seldom used literally now; it’s more likely seen with such as economy and industry.

I reflected further as I scanned Maury’s interior decorations. He had a picture of the old European riverfront section of Shanghai, famous for its commerce and nightlife in the 1930s, moribund under Mao, now very much on the rebound: a river of bright lights, in fact. “Nice picture of the Bund, Maury,” I said. He peered at me over the tops of his glasses.

My vision strayed to the splayed flowers in a dish on his table. “Moribana?” I asked. They did not seem to be doing so well; they were perhaps closer to icky than to ikebana. Maury strolled over, looked at the flowers – bound for glory, as the saying goes, only without the glory – and looked at me. And didn’t say anything. At. All.

Well, it must be difficult for Maury, having a name that recalls the Latin root for “die,” mori. I try to be sensitive; I’ve stopped calling every gift and postcard I get from him a memento Maury. But he doesn’t make it any easier for himself, either.

On this particular day, he wanted to show me a new tuxedo he’d bought. He came out from his bedroom in the full-on suit complete with cummerbund and black bowtie (real, not clip-on, give the guy credit), and he was holding a martini glass. “Bond,” he said, “Maury Bond.”

And then paused. And winced.

I pointed at his waistine, of which there was more than before, and, indicating the pleated cloth thereon, asked, “Moribund?”

He raised his martini hand. Straightened his arm. Pointed his index finger to the door.

“One more pun, and…”

He sighed, gave up, and went to refill his glass.