Biscuits and Languages:
A Discerning Human’s Tasting Guide
“If music be the food of love, play on”, sighs Duke Orsino at the beginning of Twelfth Night, a famous line which spawned the almost-as-famous saying known to linguists around the globe, “If language be the music of food, eat biscuits.” Linguists have been attracted to biscuits* ever since the Grimm brothers’ Einführung in der Sprachgeschmackswissenschaft gave the academic world the first taxonomic classification of the major European biscuits, tracing them back to the original Urkeks of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, believed to be a hard, semi-sweet, crumbly affair reminiscent of tiffin. While the brothers’ attempts at reconstructing this proto-biscuit were literally and academically unpalatable, the interest they ignited in historical gustato-linguistics travelled the world, leaving behind it a trail of unproven theories and half-baked ideas.
And so, like cheese to wine and chocolate to coffee, we at the Mary Berry Centre for Experimental Linguistics at the University of Nice are delighted to present for the twofold stimulation of your oral cavity the first ever language/biscuit tasting guide. We have taken a selection of fine languages matured in native speakers’ mouths for thousands of years, distilled and analysed their essential characteristics, and paired them with the most complementary biscuit to maximise your tasting pleasure. Read, eat, enjoy, and clean up those bloody crumbs afterwards.
Arabic—Dry and crumbly with a wholesome sweetness.
a digestive with no glass of milk
Persian—Also dry, but with a buttery under-texture and a sweet, uncanny familiarity.
a Leibniz biscuit you thought you’d already eaten
Russian—A flavour at times deceptively simple, at times simply deceptive.
a green tea KitKat
Welsh—Sweet but difficult to grasp.
a piece of Nice dunked for too long, sitting at the bottom of the cup
French—Mellow, fruity, and difficult to swallow.
the last raisin cookie, left in the packet for three days
Portuguese—Chewy and mournful.
a stolen flapjack
Georgian—Fun, but irregular and sometimes painful.
florentine à la iron filings
Turkish—Friendly and highly agglutinative.
a whole pack of Hobnobs someone gave you just to be nice
Abkhaz—A lot less friendly, but means well.
half a Hobnob
Esperanto—There’s something funny about this biscuit.
a Garibaldi (you know why)
Pirahã—Fatal System Error.
a cup of flour and a cup of water placed next to each other in the oven
Hungarian—Difficult to navigate, seemingly full of useless crap, altogether alien but still tempting.
Pig Latin—Not a biscuit.
Hopi & Tibetan—Exhibit superficial similarities, but ultimately comparison is fruitless.
an Oreo and a Bourbon
Basque—A flavour that gets exponentially more complex the more you eat.
a biscuit with so many auxiliary biscuits that together they pretty much make an entire box of biscuits
Dutch—Pumpernickel rejected from the German pumpernickel factory for being too nickely and not pumpy enough.
Valencian & Catalan—...is this a different biscuit?
two biscuits that are identical
* ‘Biscuit’ used here in the British sense, referring to the sweet hard-baked confection. For a discussion on the different words for baked snacks used either side of the Atlantic, see Bluffin’ with My Muffin: A Study in the Iconicity of the North American vs. British and Irish Baked Heritage Lexicons (Kookjes & Kareem, 2009).