Saturday, December 30, 2006

a slosh

I was thrilled last week to be contacted by Jan Freeman, who writes a weekly language column, The Word, for the Boston Globe. One of her readers had written in to ask how much port might be in a 'cheddar with a slosh of port', as advertised on an English website. We had a nice correspondence on the matter and I and this blog get a mention in the 24 December column in which she answers that reader query (see here, but you might have to register your details with the Globe first). One or two Globe readers have made their way here through that column, so (BrE) cheers (thanks) to Jan for bringing you here.

While slosh can be found in AmE recipes, it's found more often in BrE ones. (In some of the American recipes, it looks suspiciously like the recipes may have been "translated" from a BrE source.) American dictionaries don't cover the liquid measure noun sense of slosh. Within BrE, it's hard to pin down exactly how much a slosh is. OED only says it is "A quantity of some liquid." After a recipe on epicurious.com that calls for 2 tablespoons of whisk(e)y, a Scottish cook writes in to say that the recipe is better with "a good slosh of whisky much more than stated." So, a slosh in this context is a good deal more than 2 Tbsp. Another recipe site calls for one to soak more than a kilo of dried fruit in "a generous slosh of rum or brandy." With that much fruit, that slosh is likely to be cups of liquid. (Side note: British recipes generally don't use cup measures, but instead use grams, lit{re/er}s and portions thereof. An American cup = about 240 ml.)

In general, it seems that a slosh is a "generous" amount, and what one considers to be a generous amount will vary from recipe to recipe, liquid to liquid and person to person. While it is used for measuring (AmE-preferred) liquor/(BrE-preferred) spirits in recipes (and to my mind sounds best that way), it's also used for milk, juice and water. But compare: 36 google hits for recipe + "slosh of milk", 21 for recipe + "slosh of water", and 38 for recipe + "slosh of brandy". More recipes use milk or water than brandy, one should think, but brandy is more likely to come in sloshes. I think this is because slosh likes to go with liquor, rather than that you're more likely to use a small quantity of brandy in a recipe than a small quantity of water. That's just a (non-native) hunch, based on the fact that there's often a reason to use a sloshy quantity of water in cooking. But when it comes to spirits in one's baking, there's a need for imprecision, which slosh helps with--one person's "generous amount" is another person's homeopathy and yet another person's poison. While one can find translations of other "casual" measurements like dash, splash, pinch and smidgen into more precise measures, I've yet to find a precise equivalent of slosh.

On slosh versus splash: Both are onomatopoetic, but note that the 'o' sound seems to indicate a larger amount than the 'a' in splash. This is a well-discussed element of sound symbolism. Here's a (rather technical) quote on this from a paper (NB: link is to a .pdf file) by John Ohala:
Based on data of this sort, it has been claimed that the following sound types are predominant in the expression of "small": high front vowels like [i I y e] [...], and "large": low back vowels like [ɒ ʌ ɔ o] [...]. There is support for this pattern from experimental (Sapir 1929; Fischer-Jørgensen 1968) and statistical studies (Chastaing 1958, Thorndike 1945, Ultan 1978). The phonetic generalization that can be made is that the expression of size utilizes speech sounds whose characteristic acoustic frequencies vary inversely with size of the thing designated.
The /ae/ in splash being a more fronted, higher frequency vowel, it "sounds smaller" than the back, lower frequency /ɒ/ in slosh. Notice also that when you say slosh your mouth has a bigger "hollow" in which the liquid could slosh around in. The mouth seems less open (from an ingestion point-of-view) in splash.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a slosh is the liquid equivalent of a dollop :)

Nice weblog, btw.

tg

Harry said...

Of course, no explanation of 'slosh' is complete without a reference to 'sloshed', a somewhat more genteel alternative to 'pissed', 'rat-arsed', 'mullahed', 'bladdered' and 'wasted'.

lynneguist said...

Sloshed is used in both BrE and AmE, though it's a bit dated in both.

dearieme said...

A slosh is certainly bigger than a "wee dod" which itself is probably equivalent to a soupcon.

Ginger Yellow said...

It's simple really. A slosh is as much port as a port slosher sloshes when a port slosher sloshes port.

Anonymous said...

a slosh is the amount that comes out of a bottle when you tip it over the dish or drink you're making at the time, and therefore varies from dish to dish, chef to chef and bottle to bottle.

what about the measurement 'a slug'? to me this suggests more than a slosh but is seemingly equally unquantifiable.

Anonymous said...

I have a recipe of my mother's in which she put a 'dollop' of honey and a 'slurp' of whisky. As she got older these amounts increased until they were obviously too much. I use 2 tablespoons of each and this seems to work. Does a 'slosh' also depend on the age of the cook? I was brought up to think that 'slosh' was the means of delivering a 'slurp' to the bowl.

Anonymous said...

How about a glug?