May 15, 2005

Pass the Oat-Fiber Cubic

At the wonderful Dai Thanh supermarket, a large Vietnamese grocery store in San José, Barbara recently bought a packet of some pretty good light, flaky, square-shaped, sesame-flavored cookies made in China. However, as you know, we here at Language Log are gifted with the ability to tell whether new words will catch on, and I am here to tell you that the name of these cookies is not going to catch on. What the manufacturers decided to call them was Oat-Fiber Cubic Pastry. I can't know exactly how I know (it's subtle), but I know that no one is ever going to say, "Mmm! Pass the Oat-Fiber Cubic!"

I'll tell you a very strange thing about them, though. The ingredients are (1) wheat flour, (2) vegetable from soybean and cottonseed, (3) sugar, (4) wheat shoots, (5) sesame, and (6) wheat fiber. No oats in them at all. What's going on? Did they think oats was a more sexy word? Is there only one word for "oats" and "wheat" in Chinese? It can hardly be a translation mistake, unless the translation for the name was done by people who were not involved in the translation of the ingredients list. There is a real puzzle here. I'm going to take the original package in to Language Log Plaza and have the Chinese text analyzed by some of our in-house sinologists. I'll be stopping by Poser's office first. Whatever I learn will be reported right here. Watch this space.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 15, 2005 02:12 PM