Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Mother of All Tartars

What in the world is cream of tartar anyway? In spite of actually having used it in a recipe that came from the Living History Museum where I used to work, I have a very very difficult time not imagining it as the dried and powdered form of the stuff they scrape off your teeth at the dentist's. Tartar. You know. How did the stuff get its name, anyway? Does it have anything to do with either cream or tartar?

Is cream of tartar what makes tartar sauce, tartar sauce? Why isn't that called "cream of tartar" instead? It's creamier. And how did all this stuff get the word "tartar" applied to it in the first place? Isn't "Tartar" an ethnic group? Not to instigate a racial slur, but do Tartars have exceptionally bad teeth? (I would think if that's how pre-plaque tooth-scum got its name, and we were going with notorious racial stereotypes . . . well, let's just say I can think of another people group whose name we could use instead.) Did the Tartars invent cream of tartar and tartar sauce?

Furthermore, where in the world did the phrase "the mother of all . . . whatevers" come from? Usually it is applied to some enormous, impressive example of something, but I would think that phrase should mean the first example of something. I, for example, am some inches taller than my mother, and not very much thinner than she.

That last musing came from watching a commercial last night in the middle of Lost, where some truck or something was "the mother of all . . . " trucks? Maybe? I don't know. As to why I was thinking about cream of tartar on my commute this morning? The answer to that question is, conveniently, exactly the same as the answer to all the other questions I've asked in this post: I have no idea.

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