Chaos in the food column (fwd)

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jun 14 16:43:27 UTC 2004

I have just sent the following letter to the New York Times letters column,
with CC to William Safire:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2004 12:41:33 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mark A. Mandel <mamandel at>
To: letters at
Cc: onlanguage at
Subject: Chaos in the food column

In Sunday's magazine, Jason Epstein writes of the pioneering cookbook
written by Buwei Yang Chao and her husband, Professor Yuen Ren Chao. I had
the good fortune of knowing them slightly during my days as a graduate
student in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the
quotation and comments near the end of the article recalled to me Professor
Chao's sense of humor:

"Professor Chao [added] this footnote in his own initials: 'The same spoken
word [for what we now call won-ton in English], written differently, means
in fact the nebulous state of confusion when the world began,' an elevated
thought to accompany your next bowl of won-ton soup.

"'How to Cook and Eat in Chinese' is no longer in print, and the Chaos may
no longer be with us."

I would add: The same _English written_ word that refers to Professor and
Mrs. Chao, _pronounced_ differently, "means in fact the nebulous state of
confusion when the world began," an amusing thought to reflect on as you
reread their cookbook or eat your next bowl of won-ton soup. I feel sure
that that is exactly what Professor Chao had in mind when writing this
footnote over his own name.

Mark A. Mandel, Research Administrator
Biomedical Information Extraction, Linguistic Data Consortium
University of Pennsylvania
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

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