LANGUAGE IS SUCH A TEASER. What one person says and another hears can be so different as to constitute an actual language barrier.

We often use words that are clearly articulated but conjure up various meanings among our listeners. I’m thinking of he word, virgin. CA and I had a wonderful dinner at an Italian place down in Portland, recently, where they bring out a loaf of warm bread, a saucer drizzled with olive oil with a grinding of black pepper in it for dipping. I could get lost in praise for the meal and the service but what grabbed my attention for some reason was the label on this excellent bottle of olive oil: Extra Virgin! Of course, I had seen the word on olive oil bottles for ever, but for some reason it got stuck in my machinery that night.

I got virgin. No problem there. I actually knew one once. But “EXTRA”? I mean, what exactly is extra virgin? Would it be like, really, really virgin?

I confess that every time I hear the word I do think of sexual virginity. You know, what can I say? It’s the burden of our culture and language that gives this to us. We have virgin forests, virgin territory, the Virgin Mary, Virgin Airlines and even virgin naugahyde. It has become a key marketing word to impress upon us, the buying public, the pure, never touched and pristine qualities of whatever we are talking about. I got that part.

The part I don’t get is the EXTRA virgin. I mean, you have virgin or not virgin. Right? Can you have extra non-virgin? Well, lets not go too far down that path. It looks dark and murky down there. I mean I have seen wood lots that have been cut over every 20 to 30 years since anyone can remember. I guess that would be extra non-virgin forests. Non-virgin over and over again. See what I mean? We better move on.

But extra virgin? It must have something to do with being the first pressing of the olives. Nobody really believes there is some little Italian over in Tuscany with a hand press filling millions of bottles with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. But that first pressing, in whatever apparatus, is the cleanest – I am told – after which the purity of the “squeeze” can not be vouched for – they say. Still, what do you call the second run? Almost virgin? Near missed virgin. Like, “I couldda been a contender”, kind of virgin?

I remember a guy who worked in a packing plant telling me once that if people ever saw how their hamburger was made they would all become vegetarians. I suppose if we watched the path of an olive from tree to that little saucer on our table that night, the words “EXTRA virgin” would have no more meaning than “Quality is # 1”, or “Eco Friendly”, or “Operators are standing by”.

1 Comment

  1. Love this.. Jerry, we need to get together soon to break some bread with some EVOO!!

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