Monday, May 09, 2005

Beanie-Weenie Beat-Down

DGM thought she was telling an innocent story about elementary school…
The cafeteria was serving Beanie Weenie, one of those meals apparently so delicious that the day before someone always said, "Hey, don't forget tomorrow's Beanie Weenie Day!" I had practically chowed it all down as soon as the hairnetted lunch lady slopped it onto my plate. Mmmmmmm. Beanie Weenie.
…Little did she know she was adding fuel to a long-standing debate between me and my brother. Read here, here, and here.

The short version: Neal has long insisted that ‘frings’ (an appetizer consisting of french fries mixed with onion rings) is a bogus word, inasmuch as no other word in the English language is both morphologically and syntactically plural, without any identifiable singular element (i.e., you can’t find just one ‘fring’ – it’s always a fry or a ring). He later modified his claim in order to rule out some examples I provided, such as ‘troops’, ‘rapids’, and ‘falls’, by requiring that the singular element’s meaning be unclear in principle (whereas the meaning of ‘troop’, ‘rapid’, and ‘fall’ would be obvious if we used these words).

Neal eventually conceded the debate, but only grudgingly, on the basis of his own questionable example (‘stoplight peppers’) instead of my excellent ones. But now I see the opportunity to convert my TKO into a KO. You see, while DGM refers to the delicacy in question as ‘beanie-weenie’, in Neal’s and my home – and I suspect in many parts of the country – the dish is called ‘beanie-weenies.’ It’s morphologically plural (‘beanie-weenies’ has a standard plural ending), it’s syntactically plural (you would say, “My beanie-weenies are getting cold”), and there’s no such thing as a lone ‘beanie-weenie’ (it’s always a bean or a weenie). Take that, Neal!

Okay, I see one way that Neal might squirm out of this. He might contend that ‘beanie’ is an adjective modifying the plural noun ‘weenies’. The singular element would be a single weenie with beans or bean-essence all over it. But I disagree. If you’ve eaten beanie-weenies, you know that beans usually dominate the dish; if the adjectival explanation were correct, the dish would be called ‘weenie-beanies’. Also, the dish consists not just of beans and weenies, but also sauce and (sometimes) spices. If someone extracted a single weenie from the mix, we all know it would just be a weenie, not a beanie-weenie.

12 comments:

MLS said...

I think that most of the world (try a google search) knows that dish as "franks and beans" or "franks n' beans," names which aren't nearly as linguistically troubling

Neal said...

On the first day of Boy Scout summer camp, it was announced that supper would be "tube steak and musical fruit." I was thinking: Wow, that tube steak sounds interesting. I wonder what it is. But musical fruit? Maybe some kind of fruit medley or something? Of course, it reminds me of a poem I know that begins, "Beans, beans, the musical fruit." But no, they couldn't mean that... could they? They could and did mean beanie weenies. As for Glen's main point: give me some time to think.

dgm said...

"franks and beans"? for god's sake, man, did your elementary school administrators miss that workship on marketing the lunch menu?

MLS said...

Per google:

Beanie-Weenie: 1420
Beanie-Weenies: 568
Franks n' Beans: 5,350
Franks and Beans: 4,540

QED

Caliban said...

Now I don't want my lunch any more. :(

lizriz said...

"bean-essence"

< snort >

dgm said...

i'm not sayin' "franks n' beans" isn't the most popular term, i'm just sayin' it isn't the most creative. (incidentally, shouldn't the n in franks n beans have single quotes around it, like the r in toys 'r' us?)

Glen Whitman said...

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I'm betting that 'beanie-weenie[s]' is more popular in the South, while 'franks and beans' is more popular in the North. I grew up in Texas, and DGM's experience was in Virginia, while MLS is from New York.

Ingeborg S. Nordén said...

"Beanie-Weenie" was actually a trademark for one particular company's franks and beans (I think Van Camp's, before someone else bought them out). Still, I understand how easily the trademark could become a generic name...and how logical a pluralized version would be. Without the -s, I get the impression of one intact hot dog (the weenie) standing on end in a can of beans.

Anonymous said...

The works we attempt with linguistics frequently fail to provide appealing consistencies.

(Hint: what's a linguistic?)

Estel said...

In response to the anonymous comment on 'linguistics':

I don't think 'linguistics' is really plural, though. We say 'linguistics is fascinating', not '*linguistics are fascinating'.

Ingeborg S. Nordén said...

Estel, you must have read my mind. Neal already rejected field-of-study examples like "linguistics", partly because they are syntactically singular--and partly, IMO, because they name abstract things which can't be separated into distinct components as "frings" or "Beanie-Weenies" could.