September 01, 2003

Vegetarian Disses and Disguises

Vegetarian Disses and Disguises

Long before advertisements anthropomorphized soft-drinks and candy into cartoon characters, people “animated” the food they grew by assigning it human qualities.

Take vegetables. If, out of the blue, a Russian acquaintance one day calls you a “cucumber,” stay cool. You have just received a compliment. Oгурец (cucumber) in colloquial Russian indicates a healthy, fresh-looking person. For example, как огурчик means “as fresh and in as good shape as a cucumber.” It can also be used to approve of someone’s condition or actions: “А ты огурцом” – (“You are looking great”).

There are many problems and riddles associated with the cucumber, but most are outdated. Vladimir Dal, author of the famous 19th century dictionary of the Russian language, registered a perceptive one: Где огурцы, тут и пьяницы. (Where there are cucumbers, there will also be drunks.) Cucumbers, especially in their pickled form, are considered an excellent vodka appetizer.

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