Thursday, August 5, 2010

It’s the Pits

If a prune or an olive is “pitted,” it means the pits have been removed.  If a grape is “peeled” (as a Mae West character once asked Beulah to do for her), it means the peeling has been taken off.  And if your knee is “skinned,” it means there’s no skin left on that unfortunate spot. 

Okay.  But if a bird is “feathered,” it does not mean that it has had its feathers removed—just the opposite. And if a possum—or a fashionable socialite—is “furred,” the creature is not deprived of its warm fluffy coat, but is swathed in it. (If the fur coat is removed, has the creature then been “defurred”?)

Just to make matters even more confusing, if lemons are “seeded,” the seeds have been removed, but if soil is “seeded,” seeds have been planted in it.

Brits refer to small seeds in fleshy fruit as “pips.”  But I have never heard fruit from which seeds have been removed referred to as having been “pipped” or even “depipped.”

The differences in usage can only be explained, I suppose, through the inexplicably wondrous development of the English language by people who use it to mean what they want it to mean.  Or, as the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who says it’s no skin off his nose, wonders:

            Birds of a feather
            Flock together.
            But do fish of a fin
            Swim with their kin,
            Do hares of a hide
            Run side by side,
            Do prunes of a pit
            Stay closely knit,
            Do grapes of a seed
            Become friends indeed,
            And are pears of a peel
            The real deal?

1 comment:

  1. Horses, apparently, can be pipped at the post ...