December 29, 2007

Grape genetics versus ground characteristics

The Christmas double issue of my favorite magazine, The Economist, has enough bad puns in the headlines and subheads for the various features to fill a box of British traditional Christmas crackers. (They always contain a little slip of paper with a bad pun to read out to the assembled Yuletide company. "How does Santa Claus like his pizza? Deep pan, crisp and even!". And everyone groans to show that they know the words to "Good King Wenceslas".) The baddest subhead in the whole issue? A matter of taste; I'm sure "From mutiny to bounty" (over a story about ending staff discord and acquiring new resources at the World Bank) will appeal to some. But my vote goes to the translinguistic punning contents-page subhead for an article about the genetics of wine grapes. There is a dispute among theoretically-inclined wine experts, you see, somewhat akin to the division between nativists and empiricists in the matter of language acquisition. French winemakers tend to think that the special mix of soil and climate found in the particular territory where the vineyard is located — an environmental factor — is the key determinant of wine quality. But some heretics are saying that the innate characteristics of the grapes are overwhelmingly more important. Already they have mapped the genome of pinot noir. The Economist subhead: "The war on terroir." Everyone groan to show that you know French.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 29, 2007 04:46 PM