A few days ago, we went out to dinner, and on the menu (menus are frequent sources of puzzlement) was something called pintade; all I could glean from the description of the dish was that it would be cooked in some kind of African fashion. Was pintade meat, fish or fowl? The waiter, when I asked, said it was volaille. Fowl, then. When the dish came it was indeed some sort of poultry; very like chicken, but its bits seemed worryingly small. Not quite sparrow-small, though; I didn’t think it wasn’t a question of tiny songbirds netted during migration or anything awful like that—I fervently hoped not, since I devoured it with enjoyment.
The following day, at the market along the river bank, there was a stall with rotisserie chicken, poulet, (smelling irresistible), and also, according to the list of wares, pintade. I didn’t see the mystery bird, as I was jostled away to the cheese counter, where I became absorbed in the choice between brillat savarin and gouda and gorgonzola (bought a bit of each), so I was still none the wiser.
The rest of Sunday we were busy eating the roasted chicken and potatoes, and visiting the Musée de L’Imprimerie where, in vaulted sixteenth-century rooms, we saw early printing presses and precious incunabulae, plus a temporary exhibition of wonderful London Transport posters, courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art. (This global world--posters of my native England, in a historic French building, via an American university).
So now, today, finally to the dictionary: and pintade is “guinea-fowl.” Aren't they those pretty little hens with speckledy feathers? And why do we say “guinea-fowl”--did they originally come from Guinea? And what is the origin of the French word, which has no inkling of Guinea about it? Is it related to peint and the painted look of the bird’s polka-dots?
And now I see that for this enterprise I will need to acquire another copy—a computer version?—of the Oxford English Dictionary, without which one cannot discuss words properly at all….or at least English words. And also an etymological dictionary for the French lexicon. Well, one step at a time…
Next: Why I don’t have my dear OED with me, or indeed, most of my books.
Plus: can I write anything, even a little blog, without my books around me?
And, perhaps, the answers to those questions about guinea-fowl.