Monday, January 21, 2013

Inflaton* (for Inflation*, etc.)

On my way to work the other day, I noticed an old diner with a new sign. Johnny's Hot Dogs is now the Joe N' Dough Café. The "Joe" refers to coffee, of course, and the "dough" is obviously its classic companion, the doughnut. (One rather inspired menu selection in that regard is the Stiglemonkey, which is a "store-made glazed cake donut with Nutella frosting and topped with a banana.") Recently a friend sent me a link to the photograph pictured at left, asking: "When did we start spelling Donuts without a space?" Another recipient added, "When did we start selling brains for only 25¢?" Upon closer inspection, the more appetizing of the two offerings appears to be faintly hyphenated, using a small dot instead of a line. Compounds often start out as separate words, gradually growing closer through hyphenation, and finally merging into a single unit. (Although there is no evidence that doughnut was ever actually two discrete words.) The shortening (no pun intended) of doughnut to donut occurred at some point as well, at least in American English (the Brits still prefer to make the "dough" plain). A related example of how words and their meanings can change over time is the saying "I'll bet [or give] you dollars to doughnuts..." The idea was that dollars were worth so much more than doughnuts back then that this would perforce be a very good wager. Of course, given the rate of inflation, a doughnut (or donut) now often costs more than a dollar, making the expression nonsensical, or in any case, backwards. The phrase first arose around 1870, but was originally given as "dollars to buttons" or "dollars to cobwebs." It wasn't until the turn of the century that the alliterative appeal of "dollars to doughnuts" proved stronger. We found two cases of Inflaton* (for inflation*, etc.) in OhioLINK today, and 370 in WorldCat.

(Photo of store advertising donuts and brains, found on the Web.)

Carol Reid

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