Friday, 23 May 2014

Square roots

No, this is not about complicated mathematical processes, it's rather a follow-up to correspondence in the letters page of my daily.  the letters editor published an epistle from a correspondent who was complaining about what he saw as a fad for restaurants to serve food on square plates.  This brought forth a positive eruption of letters complaining about all sorts of other niggles caused by restaurants: the use of "jus" rather than "gravy"; "pan-fried" instead of plain "fried"; "drizzled with"; "on a bed of"; and so on and on - and on.  Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about.  When I eat in a restaurant, I'm far more interested in the standard of service and the quality of the food on the plate rather than the shape of the crockery.  And if the restaurateur wants to use fancy language on the menu, well, so be it.

But now I come to think of it, I have no recollection of having been served my meal on a square plate any time I have eaten out recently.  Round plates, oval plates, even triangular plates, but no square ones.

This correspondence has coincided with something else I saw, possibly on the web, where it was stated that square plates - wooden ones - were used in the Navy back in the times of England's wooden walls, the frigates and ships of the line of the 18th century.  This, it was claimed, was because square plated fitted the cramped tables better than round ones.  It was also claimed that the plates had edges called "fiddles" to stop food sliding off the plates in rough seas.  I think that is going a bit far, although I do remember that in my father's time at sea, tables on the mess decks had edges that could be raised in rough weather and these edges were called fiddles.  Anyway, it was alleged on the same site that the meals served to the seamen on those square plates were of better quality than many people ashore enjoyed and this gave rise to the term "a square meal", meaning a good tuck-in.

It's a lovely story, but a bit far-fetched.  After all, the word "square" has long been used to mean honest, fair, true.  Even Shakespeare used it in that sense - though why I should say "even Shakespeare" I don't know.  But he was writing what, 200 years before Nelson won the battle of Trafalgar so the word used in that sense certainly pre-dates the Navy's wooden platters.

We don't use the word very much in that old sense now.  In fact, there are only two occurrences that spring immediately to mind - winning fair and square, and setting something square, usually in construction.

Well, now that I've squared that off I must get on with Lions business, deciding what to buy for the food bank as I've been allocated £1000 to spend amongst other things.


Sarah said...

I personally don't really care what shape plate my food comes on either as long as it's good - great news about the grant for the food bank, things like this really do make a difference to people who are going through difficult times.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Seems to me that once we know that a square is four sided and all of the sides are equal, we can see that nobody, even those uninvolved in a transaction, has been shorted.

Speaking of Navy chow.
The meals on my ship were serves on rectangular trays.
Come to think of it, so were the meals in the mess hall at the naval station.
I won't to so far as to say we ate better quality than those ashore.
The food may have been better quality to start, but some cooks didn't necessarily have much in the way of culinary talent.