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Arbitrary Zucchini Pancakes Story

Ferdinand de Saussure, the founding father of linguistics might ask: “What could be more arbitrary than adding zucchini to pancakes?”

The arbitrariness of the sign was foundational for Saussure’s ideas of linguistic structure. Arbitrariness means that a sound such as z is free to occur in a word such as “zucchini” to communicate about this delicate, under-appreciated vegetable. Because its flavor is so mild it has been added to countless recipes formulated by sneaky cooks wanting to add extra nutrition to food, or overly zealous gardeners anxious to use up their abundant harvests.

Since there is nothing inherently zucchini-ish about the letter z, it is free to roam the English language and inhabit words such as zonk, zebra, and zipper. Zucchini has a similar kind of freedom, as it has been added to cookies, ratatouille, and even used for “boats”. Its mild, backstage flavor is now available for pancake-lovers.

Submitted by Janis Nuckolls, Linguistics

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