A QUESTION OF TASTE
The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to taste and flavour
Although the words taste and flavour are casually used interchangably, they actually denote two very distinct things. A food or drink's taste is what is sensed by the tongue and in the mouth without any contribution from the sense of smell. In contrast to this, a food or drink’s flavour is what we experience as a result of a combination of the senses of taste and smell. Therefore, a food’s taste can be described, for example, as sweet or bitter as these tastes are the result of chemical reactions that take place between the food and taste receptors present on taste buds in the mouth. The contrast between something’s taste and its flavour is brought into stark relief when we realize that there are only 5 tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami - but the sense of smell can add thousands of different aromas to the experience of eating the same food. The word taste derives from the Old French taster meaning 'to feel, taste'. Taster itself is thought to ultimately derive from the Latin word taxāre 'evaluate, handle' (which also the origin of the word tax), itself believed to be from tangere 'to touch', which is also the origin of the words tangible and tangent.
If something is said to leave a bad taste in one's mouth it gives a feeling of disgust as the result of a particular experience. The first recorded use of the expression is in novelist Elizabeth C. Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë in which she quotes her friend and the subject of her biography as saying in conversation the following about some of Balzac's novels: ‘They leave such a bad taste in my mouth’.
Taste is also used to mean a small amount of a food or drink taken to see if it is enjoyable. It is this usage that is used figuratively in the metaphorical expression a taste of one’s own medicine meaning to subject someone to the same unpleasant treatment to which they have subjected others. The phrase dates from the middle of 19th century.
FLAVOUR AND FLATULENCE
A food’s flavour is perceived as the joint response of the senses of taste and smell when the food is consumed. It is perhaps surprising that the sense of smell has more effect on how we sense a food’s flavour than the sense of taste. However this is consistent with flavour’s original meaning of 'odor, aroma' which it had when it first entered the English language around the end of 14th century. The word was borrowed from the Old French flaur, which was from the Latin flātor meaning blower and ultimately from the Latin flāre meaning 'to blow, puff'. This means that that it shares a common root with the words flatus and flatulence. Flavour did not come to be associated with taste until late in the 17th century when its new use recognized that smell is involved in how we 'taste'.
The phrase flavour of the month refers to something or someone that has become very popular but with the implication that the success will be short-lived. It is often used sarcastically and with the implication that the popularity is undeserved. The phrase was first used in the US during the 1940s when ice cream parlours used it to promote a lesser known flavour of ice cream.
Continue to …