Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excuse Me, What? Word Choice and Rocket Chicken

I love words.  As a writer and an editor, I guess that's not much of a surprise.  Written or spoken, words are what get me.  I've never been a fan of action movies, for example, or slapstick.  Give me good dialogue anytime.  Take this classic scene from The Thin Man.  William Powell and Myrna Loy are unbeatable actors, but the script by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, also gives them a lot to work with.

I love witty dialogue, especially when it doesn't rely on curse words to get a laugh.  I also get a kick out of unintentionally misused language.  Years ago, I got quite a chuckle when someone on PBS said the network would be having a special program during pledge time featuring "Pearl Bailey and just a list of guests."  I imagined Pearl Bailey standing onstage with a scrap of paper.  No way, old Pearl knew it takes at least "Two to Tango."

A parkway --
or is it a devil's strip?
Another fun thing about language is regional variations.  In the United States, for instance, there are numerous ways to describe an Italian sandwich -- submarine (or sub), grinder, hero, hoagie, po' boy, and doubtless other variants.  And you can wash that sandwich down with a soft drink, a Coke (as a generic term), a soda, or a pop.  When it's cold, one can wear long johns or thermals depending on where you live. The strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street?  What I call a parkway is also known as a tree lawn, a nature strip, a sidewalk buffer, and even a devil's strip.  When I was a teenager, my group of friends was fond of decorating people's yards with toilet paper -- what we called rolling yards.  The first time I heard a Midwesterner refer to tp-ing a yard, I honestly had no idea what that meant!  It even took me a while to figure out why it was called tp-ing (duh).  Having a mother from the south and a northern father, I got to hear some different word choices growing up depending on which side of the extended family I visited. My northern grandfather called flowers "posies," which I found charming, and which led to the name of this blog, and instead of saying something was small, he would say "little wee," as in "Look at the little wee posies."

Of course, if we start comparing American English to British and Australian English, we could go on forever with the different words for things.  In my work, I edit employee surveys for consulting firms.  One company that I used to work with has a lot of clients in Australia.  The first time I came across an employee saying "here at the coal face," I found that expression fascinating and much more evocative than the common U.S. expression "on the front lines."

Okay, you're no doubt saying, what the heck does all this have to do with chicken and what is rocket chicken anyway? Well, one of my favorite word variations has to do with food.  What we in the United States call arugula is more commonly called rocket in England and Australia.  When I adapted a Gordon Ramsay recipe for Sticky Lemon Chicken into a less sticky dish with more sauce and served it on arugula, I decided Rocket Chicken sounds much more fun than Arugula Chicken.  Rocket Chicken will blast your taste buds and take you places!  (Well, maybe it won't transport you, but it will blast your taste buds.)

Rocket Chicken

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, well trimmed (slice in half if needed to reduce thickness)
Salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon powdered thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, cut into halves or thirds
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup hot water
1 bunch of arugula (salad rocket)

Season chicken very lightly with salt and with freshly ground pepper and the thyme.  Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over high heat.  Cook chicken and garlic, turning as needed, until cooked through.

Add vinegars and cook over medium heat for about five minutes.  Add honey, lemon juice, and soy sauce.  Mix together.  Add hot water.  Cook at medium to medium high for 20-30 minutes to reduce liquid.

Place chicken on bed of arugula.  Drizzle sauce over top of chicken and arugula.  Serves 2-3 people.


  1. Yep. It's all about the words. Do you know Laurie Notaro? She wrote about it today. I'll send you a link, if you like!

  2. Love words, language, regional accents - for such a small island, we have a lot! We say at the coal face too... my husband feels it goes there every day (he's a teacher) xx

  3. Wow - I never knew that Arugula is called Rocket in England - how funny. I just love thyme also - not used much in modern cooking. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

  4. How funny that my blog was about an old saying today, You know what they say about great minds. He He!!! That chicken looks yummy. Pinning.


  5. words are funny, especially regionally. Moving south from NY was fun for us, down here they call their kids ugly or ill when they misbehave and they mash buttons. I worked in a grocery story and an older woman wanted a poke, my boss had to tell me that a poke was a paper bag. and then my son's girlfriend at the time stated that she was going to knit him a tobaggan for Christmas. up north, we used tobaggan to slide down hills on the snow. hahahaha

  6. What a neat post... I love words --and comparing the way people say things in the different areas of the country... When I moved to New Orleans in the '80's, I had to learn a new language....That's where 'po-boy' came from... They also called the grassy area dividing two sides of the street --a Neutral ground... Back in the day, you must have been safe if you were on 'neutral ground'... ha.. (I had always called it the median!)

    Never heard of all of the words/phrases you used to describe the area between the street and sidewalk... I have always just called it the 'ditch'.... ha ha

    Your Rocket Chicken sounds great... YUM.

  7. I love the look of your rocket salad. And I've never seen that movie. And I've certainly never taken a gun to my Christmas tree! xx

    1. It's a great movie if you like old ones. There is a whole series of Thin Man movies but the first three are the best I think.

  8. The chicken looks so yummy! Rocket leaf salad has always been a favoruite of mine.
    I have learned so many different new words today. Thought coke is just one of sodas and soda means soda water.

  9. I remember being in Tennessee for an antique show and I was sweetly made fun of for calling my drink pop. And the same person made fun of me for saying gross. Oddly enough he was not from Tennessee but from California. Your rocket chicken looks and sounds great.

    1. Being from Tennessee myself, I'll admit, it took me a long time to not think "pop" sounded weird. Never could use the term even after 30 years in the Midwest.

  10. What a great read, and that Rocket Chicken looks excellent!

    As a Canadian we're all about pop (not soda) and I've learned to order SWEET tea (not iced tea) when we head south of the border. Love the regional differences that make language so interesting :)

    ¸.·´¸.·*´¨) ¸.·*¨)
    (¸.·´ (¸.·`¤... Jennifer

  11. Thin Man movies are a hoot! And did you know that Asta (their dog) is quite often a clue in crossword puzzles? I'm a crossword nut!

    Here in Georgia a Coke is a Coke. And our tea is sweet!

    If you're fixin' to.... , you're getting ready to do something.

    So I'm fixin' to go now. Great post!

  12. Sounds great! I remember my first experience with realizing local differences in language- in college. Those folks from more northern places than I've ever ventured had some crazy names for things; like the "bubbler" for a drinking fountain and "hoodie" (which I hadn't heard yet) for sweatshirt.

  13. What a fun foray into language usages! I like "wee little" a lot. The chicken looks delicious whtever you call it! (And just between you and me, I think you can have too many books too. My hubs and I are E majors too!) Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. The chicken looks perfectly cooked and I love arugula. One of my all time favorites!

  15. YUM! This looks and sounds wonderful. I am always looking for different ways to cook chicken because it is one of the most affordable meats out there right now. I think I bought six packs today, lol, and put in the freezer. If I don't see you around blogland before Thanksgiving, have a wonderful one!

  16. I wish you could come and cook for me. :o) Looking at the recipe this just has to be full of taste. Love all the garlic too! Hope you are well...Happy Thanksgiving.

  17. That was a fun read! We have found this quite interesting during our travels over the years.
    My favorite memory was at a hotel in England when my husband told the desk clerk we were ready to leave and would like our bill. The clerk had no idea what he was saying. After several tries of explaining what he wanted, she suddenly said "oh, you want to VACATE your room!" We definitely remembered 'vacate' for the next couple of hotels.

  18. This recipe looks fabulous! You are right about the words. Funny how people up here call soft drinks pop, while others call them sodas. I always think of a soda as a "pop" with a scoop of ice cream.

  19. hi! im fran, a spanish male fashion blogger. Maybe you like my style and want to follow me

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  20. This recipe looks delicious! :)

    I'd like to invite you to join in the Meet & Greet Blog Hop! This will be a weekly Sunday & Monday event, link up and join in the fun! :)

  21. Great post! Well you are a great writer and you tell and excellent story. Have a happy thanksgiving!

  22. Hehe... I didn't know there was so many ways to call an Italian sandwich. That chicken looks so yummy!!!

  23. I enjoyed reading this post about word usage. I never knew you were in this field of work. You always write such intriguing stories. I was imagining this post in an edition of Reader's Digest. :-) And I'm sure that chicken tastes super delicious.

  24. I love that idea of rocket chicken! Thanks for sharing. I'm an Illinois girl and when I taught in Wisconsin my students all referred to the water fountain as a bubbler and colored pencils as pencil colors. I'll tell you, the first time one of them asked to go to the bubbler, my blank stare made my whole class laugh.

  25. Hi Lynette, Looks delicious and I think I have all those ingredients in the cupboard/freezer! Hope you had a lovely birthday the other week. Maggie xx

  26. Rocket Chicken sounds good. I loved the thin man series. And I am your newest follower - hope you follow me back. sandie

  27. Looking back at your post I see my comment is nowhere to be seen. Arggh! It was an error on my side. Oh, the joys of the internet! Now I must do it all again and keep the ctrl C command in mind.

    Here goes. This is one of my favourite posts from you. I am also quite intrigued with regional language variations. In Ireland we use a host of different words and sayings. We have lots of words for when we've had to much to drink: pissed, wasted, hammered, destroyed, wrecked, langered, polluted, demented... A sidewalk in called a footpath, the police or cops are called the Guards, chips are called crisps, fries are called chips, and there are lots of differences. We tend to have both American and British variations as well as our own so a mixture of word variations and pronunciation of the words depending on where in Ireland you're from.

    Here's some Irish slang for fun.

    Savage - when you say something is savage it's normally good. The meanings have slight variations. 'The gig was savage(great)' and 'I just met the most savage (hot) girl ever!'

    Cat - used to describe something awful. 'The music was cat.'

    Sound - someone who is reliable/dependable. 'He's a sound fellow.' 'Sound as a pound (as reliable as currency).'

    Banjaxed - broken or in a bad way. 'I'm right banjaxed.'

    yoke - thing. 'Hand me that yoke on the table.'

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it and it got me thinking :) Fingers crossed this publishes. Ctrl C. Publish.

    1. My daughter spent a semester in Limerick, and her Irish roommates got a kick out of her baking "biscuits" for breakfast (something like your scones). Some of the expressions you list are quite new to me. I'll share this comment with my daughter to see if she heard these when she was there.

    2. Oh, the joys of language! Makes things more entertaining to say the least. Interesting that your daughter spent a semester in Limerick. I studied for a Masters in Limerick. If you've read Angela's Ashes it describes the grey, wet and windy city down to a tee.

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