corn as small things: all maize is corn but not all corn is maize?

i think i just made a minor life breakthrough. i am working on re-reading ‘salt‘ – at least i thought i was re-reading it but it doesn’t seem as familiar as it should, so maybe i am just reading it.

over the past several years, a troubling thing would sometimes happen. i would go to a museum in europe (like the digs under geneva) or read a food history* and the author would mention ‘corn’ at a time that should have significantly pre-dated european contact with north america, and therefore, mention of maize in the ‘old world.’ i found this deeply confusing. sometimes i thought the author would go on to reveal that vikings or the basque had actually brought maize back from their early voyages and really rock my world.

but the authors were always silent and my brain would hurt.

however, mr. kurlansky tells me, “it was the 17th-century English who gave corned beef its name – corn being any kind of small bits, in this case, salt crystals.’

corn seems to just be a synonym for small things and sometimes used as a generic word for grain (e.g., which suggests it was the term for the most common grain in the region).

is this just my american english (or just my modern english) failing me?

*i really enjoy these commodity-specific histories – spice** and tea*** and all the rest. i know it is trendy but i hope it is a lasting one; it lets a history span geographic space and time frame without being too overwhelming.

**i first read spice around the time i was really digging into orientalism; nice pairing. not a very difficult one to figure out, either, but thought i would mention it!

*** i just found several additional tea histories while looking up that link. hooray! recommendations always welcome.

Published by hlanthorn

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1899-4790

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