Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tea Formation

In honor of a visit by the Duchess of York, I see the high-society folks in Houston have thrown a little afternoon get-together that they called a “high tea.” Although I was not present at this gala event, I’m willing to bet that it was not high tea at all.

Most Americans have the mistaken notion that “high tea” is a very elaborate spread, replete with silver teapot, fine china cups, dainty finger sandwiches of cucumber and smoked salmon, rich cakes, delicate cream puffs, chocolate éclairs, crumpets, and buttery scones laden with clotted cream. 

That’s “afternoon tea,” albeit a very upscale one. A more typical afternoon tea would consist of a cup of tea, a few biscuits (cookies), and maybe a slice of cake.

Variations of afternoon tea include a “light tea,” in which the food is generally limited to sweets, such as biscuits, sponge cakes, madeleines, or trifle; “full tea,” in which various savory sandwiches are added to a large array of sweets; and “cream tea,” in which the principal food is scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves. If fresh strawberries are served with the scones, the cream tea becomes a “strawberry tea.”

The misunderstanding about “high tea” comes from the interpretation of the word “high,” which is wrongly thought in this instance to mean “grand” or “elegant.” In fact “high tea,” usually served in working-class households, consists of simple, hot food—fried eggs, sausages, cheese, tomatoes, chips, beans, etc., as well as a cup of tea—and serves as the evening meal. Nowadays, one finds such a meal referred to as “high tea” mostly in Scotland and the North of England. In other places it may be known as “supper” of simply “tea.”

The best explanation I have come across as to why it’s called “high tea,” is that it was eaten around 6:00 p.m. by servants at a dinner table of standard height—as opposed to the low tea tables on which afternoon tea for the upper crust had been served, usually at about 4:00 p.m. Eaten from a more elevated table, the meal was therefore a “high” tea.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is usually high himself, but not from tea.

            The high and mighty
            Like their high tea,
            But I’ll take low tea
            Over no tea. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Illicit vs. Elicit

I could scarcely believe my eyes when The New York Times, which really ought to know better, quoted a student at the University of California, Berkeley, as saying:
            “A lot of the speakers whom they invited were done just to
illicit a reaction, to cause a negative outburst.” 

That ludicrously erroneous illicit was changed to elicit in the online posting, but how it ever got past copy editors into the print edition boggles the mind. 

Elicit is a verb, dating to the 1640s in English, derived from the Latin elicitus, past participle of elicere, “to draw forth, evoke.” 

Illicit, is an adjective, which goes all the way back to 1500, from the Old French Illlicite, meaning “illegal, forbidden,” from the Latin illicitus, which also means “not lawful.”

The two words are very similar in pronunciation, which no doubt accounts for their confusion with each other. Nonetheless, such an egregious misuse makes one wonder if copy editors are still employed at The New York Times. 

Illicit is only one of many adjectives that have been used to refer to The Bard of Buffalo Bayou. A few of the many others are immoral, obscene, repugnant, ridiculous, odious, and abhorrent. 

           There was a young lady named Bisset,
            Whose films were somewhat explicit.
                        When one went a bit far,
                        It was labeled with “R,”
            And the censors pronounced it illicit.

            The response that this did elicit
            From the highly indignant Miss Bisset
                        Was “Chacun à son goût,
                        If it’s too hot for you,
            The solution is simply to miss it.”