Word origins are food for thought

January 19, 1994|By Rob Kyff | Rob Kyff,The Hartford Courant

If you've ever wondered where "Chef Boy-ar-dee" came from, what the two "M's" in "M&M's" stand for, or whether it's "ketchup" or "catsup," you're sure to relish Vince Staten's new book, "Can You Trust a Tomato in January?"

In this delightful cook's tour de farce, Mr. Staten reveals not only the succulent state secrets of the American food industry (there's more lemon in Lemon Pledge furniture polish, for instance, than in equal amounts of Country Time lemonade), but provides delicious etymologies of food terms and brand names as well.

"Chef Boyardee," says Mr. Staten, blends the first names of three company founders: "Boyd," "Art" and "Dennis," while the fictional character "Betty Crocker" honors a company director named William Crocker. "Sara Lee" comes from Sara Lee Schupf, daughter of the bakery's founder.

"Birds Eye" frozen foods are named, not for feathery field filchers, but for firm-founder Charles Birdseye. "M&M's" come literally from Mars: the last names of Frank Mars, founder of Mars candy, and Bob Murrie, company president in 1941; "Spam" is short for "spiced ham;" "Velveeta" means "velvety cheese; "Tab" helps you keep "tabs" on your weight, and the exotic "Haagen-Dazs" was simply made up by the wife of a Bronx ice-cream maker.

Likewise, "7Up," originally called "Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda," was christened by default after its inventor rejected six other names.

When nutritionists began caning sugar in the 1980s, "Sugar Crisp," "Sugar Frosted Flakes" and "Sugar Smacks" quietly changed their names to "Golden Crisp," "Frosted Flakes," and "Smacks," respectively, and almost no one noticed.

But, when Coors renamed its "Banquet Beer" as "Coors Original Draft" in 1988, the company lost many longtime customers.

And, "ketchup" won over "catsup" when Del Monte finally capitulated in 1988.

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