Wednesday, April 12, 2006

is vinegar sour or bitter?

Perhaps I should retire from language teaching. What appeared to be a minor disagreement with my students turned into an all-out war for the universe itself, and I lost.

The question that sparked the war: If, in teaching the difference between the words sour and bitter, you create a two-column chart with "sour" as one heading and "bitter" as the other, where would you place the following items:

taste of lemon
taste of vinegar
taste of unsweetened chocolate
taste of hanyak (often harsh-tasting Chinese medicine)
taste of unsweetened cinnamon
taste of unsweetened grapefruit


Me, I would place lemon and grapefruit under the "sour" category, and everything else would go under "bitter." How about you?

My Level 1 students saw me draw my chart and place the above items in each category, but they looked at each other when I wrote vinegar under "bitter."

"We say vinegar is sour," one student from my Thursday morning class timidly offered.

"NO!" I boomed. "Vinegar is bitter!"

Ultimately regretting my outburst, I decided to research the matter at home. It seems I'm wrong-- or at most, only partially right.

Looking up sour and bitter in the online dictionaries proved useless. The definitions in most online resources are unhelpful. The fact that sour and bitter substances produce roughly the same facial reaction is also an unhelpful guide to distinguishing the two tastes.

But according to the online Webster's, vinegar is defined thus:

a sour liquid obtained by fermentation of dilute alcoholic liquids and used as a condiment or preservative


Most shitticularly shittical, that.

Not about to give up that easily, I took a leaf from Charles's book, brought the matter to GoogleFight, and got the following results:

"sour vinegar" = 11,300 results
"bitter vinegar" = 378 results

For those of you who don't know, placing your search string in quotation marks forces Google to search for exactly that search string, and not for permutations and combinations. With a mere 378 results to back me up, I am forced to concede defeat: even in the anglophone world, vinegar is generally considered sour. And now, like a grumbling, hissing Gollum, I must return to my nasssty little studentses, head hung low, and confess that I was... disastrously wrong.


Speaking of "fuck," people have been linking to Masamania's hilarious photoblog of a Japanese "dick festival." Try to hold down your lunch when you see the older white dude wearing a Japanese loincloth the wrong way, such that a pair of somethings is visible. Masa's commentary about the whole thing is hilarious.



Anonymous said...

Sour it is, my friend!

When I used to work at McDonald's, I occasionally had to fill in for the nightshift maintenance guys. They had this thing for using vinegar to clean the windows, despite the fact that we had proper glass cleaner.

Anonymous said...

Uh, yeah... where did you ever get the idea that vinegar was bitter? It is most definitely sour. Next time consult with your HC audience to avoid humiliation in front of your class.