James D. McCawley jmccawle at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Fri Apr 24 20:15:06 UTC 1998

Two items of trivia, relevant to the discussion of "taste":
1. Raffles' simile says how good durian tastes but gives no clue as to what
it tastes like. The closest approximation in my experience to its flavor
and texture is cheesecake.
2. David's comments about the how much sugar Malays put in their tea and
coffee reminded me of the linguistic puzzle that the coffee machines at
National University of Singapore presented when I was there in 1992. There
were three bilingual buttons: one said in English "Coffee with milk and
sugar" and in Chinese "Kafei" (= coffee); one said in English "Coffee
without sugar" and in Chinese "Kafei wu tang" (= coffee without sugar); and
the third said in English "Black coffee" and in Chinese "Kafei wu" (=
coffee crow). The puzzle was: if you push the 2nd button, do you get milk
in your coffee? I reasoned that the difference between "Kafei" and "Kafei
wu tang" should be "with vs. without sugar" and "Kafei" corresponded to
English "Coffee with milk and sugar", so button #2 should be coffee with
milk and no sugar. But I was wrong: it was coffee with neither milk nor
sugar. "Black coffee"/"Kafei wu" is coffee with sugar and no milk; the
relevant piece of background that I needed in order to solve the puzzle is
that no one around there takes coffee with milk but no sugar, so coffee
with neither milk nor sugar is the only culturally relevant coffee without

Jim McCawley

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