What’s in a name? Sometimes a whole lot of confusion, which is ridiculous. Seriously, the English language overflows with vocabulary, and you might think there should be a precise word for each distinct thing. So why are we stuck with one word for bean?
Maybe you think one word is plenty. Wrong.
If I said I pulled a carrot from my garden, then cleaned and roasted it, and ate it with lunch, you would probably visualize quite accurately what I consumed. But if I said I picked, prepared, and cooked some beans for lunch, what did I mean? What do you see on my plate now?
The Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 170,000 words that we use today. That’s a big number, but even so, the scope of those words leave some unfortunate gaps. How did that happen?
We humans were careful to give unique words to sheep and mutton, cow and beef, deer and venison, thus distinguishing between the living creature and what we put on a plate. If we can give creative, original words to the meat, surely we can distinguish among the diverse parts of the bean plant that we eat.
Yes, we can use the terms green bean, wax bean, and dried bean, but even those names have weaknesses. We almost never say dried bean and never, ever list it on a menu. And our beloved coffee bean? It’s not a bean at all. Add to that, we are lazy speakers and tend to use single words, hence “bean,” and good luck guessing what it means.
For example, I grow scarlet runner beans in my garden. These are amazing as a crop because I pick tender young pods to eat as pods (green beans) and let most of the pods continue to develop. As the seeds swell in the pod, I pick some of them when they are fat but immature. I shell the tender seed and steam it up for a result similar to lima beans but more flavourful. Finally, I leave the bulk of the pods on the plants until they are fully mature and dry. Then I have dried beans like kidney beans but larger and, again, more flavourful.
In this situation, I can’t define the bean by saying I will serve scarlet runner beans for lunch. I’ve tried to get around the problem by calling the seed form “scarlet limas” and the pod form “scarlet runners.” It’s an awkward dodge, and usually one I have to explain to people even as I use it. Basically, it doesn’t work.
Calling all wordsmiths! We need at least two new words – good words, memorable words, easy words – to replace bean and bean. Think about it. Get creative. Let’s leave the word bean to refer to the plant and produce a couple of umbrella words for the beans you eat as seeds and the beans you eat as pods. Even better, add a third word for the immature seed. If the Inuit can have fifty terms for different types of snow, surely we can distinguish among our beans.
I’m not a linguist, so designing original words is beyond my scope. Still, I’d like to suggest a solution. I rack my brain and can only think of distinguishing the digestive aftereffects of pod versus dried beans. You know, the…uh…Flatulence Effect. To tone it down for polite company, a green bean could be called a friendly and a dried bean could be called a rude. Hey, think about it. Would you like some fish fingers, potato tots, and scarlet runner friendlies for supper? Sounds good to me. No confusion, either.
Please introduce young learners to my alphabet videos. Here’s one that focuses on the letter N.