victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 10 06:21:03 UTC 2011

There is not much point for someone like me to deal with the dictionary
entry for "ladder" through on-line sources. There might be some odd-ball
appearances that fall squarely under the 3.a. definition, but all the listed
definitions go far enough back to make standard databases fairly useless.

3. a. Applied to things more or less resembling a ladder. Often with
> qualifying words, as cheese ladder, cooper's ladder, paring ladder (see
> quots.); fish ladder(see fish n.1 Compounds 2b).

 Examples include one for "tape ladder"

1890    Wesleyan Methodist's Mag. Mar. 162   A woven-ladder tape for
> Venetian blinds, in lieu of hand-made ladders.

I found "tape ladder" in The Strand Magazine (December 1893) ad for Venetian
Blinds, posted separately under "Cold Peace". The object does /resemble/ a
ladder--it's essentially the two vertical fabric contrivances into which the
horizontal slats are inserted to form Venetian blinds. Still, because of
texture, this is quite a different product from other "ladders" under 3.a.
(as is "fish ladder", which does have a separate entry under "fish").

But there is one meaning of ladder that's completely missing--and this may
include a different kind of "cheese ladder". It does not fall under 3.a.
because it does not resemble a ladder (except in some fancy

Restaurants often offer a thematic collection of small samples or amuse
bouche that are meant to be consumed in a particular order. This may also
include beers and other alcoholic beverages (except wines, which normally
have a different ethic associated with them). The reason for the specific
order is to highlight a particular flavor profile--if the order does not
matter, it is simply a "sampler". Other reference to similar presentations
are "palette" and "staircase", depending on how they are presented. For an
example of the latter, see Caviar Staircase, p. 101-3 in Amuse-Bouche, by
Rick Tramonto, New York: 2002. Tramonto also mentions that he started out
with a palette, but switched to "staircase" for more dramatic presentation
(and because of proprietary concerns).

"Beer ladder" is fairly standard at microbrew pubs and with "beer
enthusiasts". Here's an example from a report from a beer festival:

Organisers of the festival, which runs until the afternoon of Sunday March
> 28, helped drinkers on the way with clever 'Beer Ladders', which grouped
> together ales of different styles.
> You can chose from the following Beer Ladders - Dark Beer, Golden Beer,
> Rugby Beer, Strong Beer, or you can make your own. Each starts with a beer
> in the weaker range, and they get stronger as you climb up the ladder
> through the night!

The Great Dane brewery in Madison, WI, has a board with printed squares that
appear in an outline of a ladder and on which small beer glasses are placed,
in order. Again, the idea is to consume them in a particular sequence, from
weaker-flavored to monstrous (stout or porter). I've seen similar references
to cheese, sushi, chocolate and caviar ladders, but there is no reason why
the term should be limited to these five.

This also has interesting consequences. Whether as a derivative from this
meaning of "beer ladder" or independent metaphoric coinage, "beer ladder" to
another kind of ordering of beers, perhaps by quality or popularity.

Here's an example of the latter:

If you are trying to grow a national brand, that paints a depressing
> picture, particularly if you are entering a crowded field like real estate.
> What it means is that it is effectively no different being 4th than it is
> being 40th when it comes to brand awareness. You simply can’t spend enough
> money to push a new brand to the top of a crowded ladder. Miller beer found
> that out the hard way, spending millions of dollars trying to overtake
> Budweiser, the “king of beers” who has held the top rung for years.
> But then one day Miller had an idea. What if instead of spending millions
> of dollars trying to move up the beer ladder with little success, they spent
> the same money putting up a new ladder? Hmmmm. It might just work! And light
> beer was born. Tastes great. Less filling. Miller successfully raised a
> brand new ladder and to this day they own the top rung of that light beer
> ladder.

And here's an example of the other:

> The wheat beers appeal to the entry level beer enthusiast, the lighter beer
> drinker, and to the lager drinker, ready to make his or her first step up
> the quality beer ladder.

I suppose, both of these fall under 1.c.

1. c. fig. Also in phr. †to draw up the ladder after itself  [compare
> French après lui il faut tirer l'échelle] : to be unapproachable. to see
> through a ladder : to see what is obvious. to kick down the ladder : said of
> persons who repudiate or ignore the friendships or associations by means of
> which they have risen in the world.

Note that these do not include such phrases as "move up the ladder" or "a
step down on the corporate ladder" (i.e., a demotion). All of these--these
two expressions along with the metaphorical examples of "beer ladder"
represent one figurative meaning of ladder==hierarchy. As such, I believe
they deserve a separate entry, as they are quite different from the rest of
1.c.--hierarchy does not resemble a ladder.

Incidentally, there are five quotations in OED that mention "corporate
ladder", but no separate entry and no coverage under "ladder". This is
probably an even greater oversight than "beer ladder".


PS: I'm still working on "Cold Peace", but will post shortly.

PPS: RH Unabridged ( and Infoplease) is the only one with a
separate entry for "corporate ladder":

the hierarchical order of position, title, or rank, as in a large
> corporation: to work one's way up the corporate ladder.

PPPS:  The etymological note on "amuse-bouche" states

Either < French amuse-bouche (rare: compare quot. 1968 for a reference to
> alleged use in French), lit. ‘(that which) amuses the mouth’ < amuser
> amuse v. + bouche bouche n.1, or perhaps formed within English from the same
> French words; in either case apparently as an alteration of
> French amuse-gueule amuse-gueule n., which is the usual term in French.

The French use of "amuse-bouche" may be rare and may be eclipsed by
"amuse-gueule", but in American English usage, especially by contemporary
chefs, and in Dutch "amuse-bouche" dominates. OED definition for
"amuse-bouche" deflects to "amuse-gueule":

Esp. in French cookery: a small savoury item of food served as an appetizer.
> Also fig.

But the meaning of "amuse-bouche" is even more narrow. It is usually
interpreted as a "one-bite" appetizer or aperitif. In fact, it cause
considerable consternation from judges on reality TV cooking shows if a chef
comes up with an "amuse-bouche" that does not fit in a shot glass or a
teaspoon. "Amuse-bouche" is the savoury counterpart to sweet "petit four".
Calling it a "small appetizer item" just doesn't do it justice and makes it
sound like a fancy version of tapas.

The American Dialect Society -

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