Branzino Panino

I think my first true love is moaning about the abuses of language. Truly, I try not to be too much of a perscriptivist, linguistic sourpuss but I do have my fucking limits. My triggers seem to specifically be the long-standing American tradition of using a foreign word where a perfectly good English word exists, and the knowledge that this generally happens so that someone can mark up the price by 15%.

I am reasonably sure I am rehashing old blog post by sharing the anecdote about when me and my family (all three of us bilingual) went to an Italian restaurant in Washington DC and saw a ‘tomato – pompodoro bisque’ on the menu. I just couldn’t resist, and pretty soon we were all sat there as the waiter went over the difference between the two (for those of you playing at home, there is no difference, pomodoro just being the Italian word for tomato). Really, that waiter deserved a prize. I didn’t know it then, but now that I have some waitering experience under my belt I can safely classify that job as a form of acting, and having called him out he performed anyhow.

(My other anecdotal failure of translation in this field is the tale of the friend who came to visit me in Italy, couldn’t understand my look of absolute puzzlement when he kept on asking me ‘to get some panini’, and I in turn couldn’t understand his look of puzzlement when I turned up with some ordinary ass sandwiches. About a decade ago, I published that anecdote with some thoughts on a Marketing Semiotics blog, so I am technically still eating on that story.)

Today’s culprit is the word ‘Branzino’, the Italian word for seabass. If we want to be more precise, it refers to the European seabass. That’s as specific as I am willing to get. I heard it used, whole cloth in an American TV show where a woman standing dead-ass in Colorodo saying she was going to make ‘Branzino’ for dinner. Not fish, not bass, but Branzino.

Sigh. I worked a managerial position in a restaurant once where I got a rather unfortunate look under the hood of the industry. This was no Anthony Bourdain experience, and the kitchen was actually rather clean, all things considered. But despite the fact that we had ‘Branzino’ on the menu, it came in a box that just said ‘Bass’ and I am reasonably sure these fucking things came from Baltimore. And I am sure our customers would have preferred it this way. If any of them were able to distinguish our where-ever-the-fuck Bass from the European Seabass we were advertising, I was never made aware of it. Frankly, my extremely Venetian (Branzino is actually more Northern Italian / Venetian, the real italian word for Bass being spigola) mother came in weekly to eat that fucking bass and never said a fucking thing.

So I guess I am too blame this time. We did we do it back then? To charge 15% more for a god damn fish!

I get why they went with Italian. It sounds fancy. It sounds like you should pay 15% more for it. I checked around the other european langauges and in (I think) all of them, the word for branzino is just some variation of european bass:

  • Eiropas bass
  • baix europeu
  • bajo europeo
  • Europese bas
  • Europäischer Bass
  • Basse européenne
  • baixo europeu
  • европски бас
  • ευρωπαϊκό μπάσο (Yes, μπ really is how you write B in Greek)

even in fucking Hungarian, the most alien of the European languages, its the damn same:

  • európai basszusgitár (Hungarian)
  • Europako baxua (Basque. FUCKING BASQUE!)

And so lastly, why am I moaning about all this? I have no idea. Part of it is the idea that people are getting fleeced over this non-sense. I just find it absolutely bizarre that people will make these weird distinctions where no distinction is needed. And part of me will stay up at night thinking about the realia of it all. What did the one woman, stood dead-ass in her Colorado kitchen, actually cook. Did she actually have a fish, fished out of the Mediterranean (or, ore charitably, and where along the European coast) frozen and shipped all the way to fucking Colorado, or did she get something from the local lake or river? Which one would actually be better? Which one would more likely impress your house guests? If the latter is more likely, why the devil use the foreign word.

Oh, yea. It sounds cool. And you can charge an extra 15%.

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