All 'Cued Up: The Orthography Of Smoked Meat
I stared at the headline of Mike Nagrant's article in this week's NewCity for a solid fifteen, twenty seconds before I could parse it. Pop quiz: What does this say?
If you sat there for a moment muttering to yourself "ick? L'kway? eye-kway? ike?" then you, my friend, are invited to my birthday party (it's in 364 days — mark your calendar now). If you said "eye... cue ... oh, I get it! Like I.Q.!" then you are surfing the Nagrant Wavelength, and I wish you godspeed and all good wishes.*
Because seriously, it took me a really long time to get there. In fact, I only knew what was going on thanks to the contextual contributions of the article's subtitle: "The education of a Smoque master." Smoque being, of course, the preeminent Chicago barbecue joint, so suddenly I realized that what's happening here is that Nagrant is taking the idea of barbecue, often dropped by its fans to a nickname comprising only the final syllable, and turning into a pun on the notion of intelligence. Get it? I get it now.
But it rankles me, and here's why: Que. I'm a grammar-and-spelling kind of gal — typos aside, I like things to be fit and proper — and I've just never been able to bring myself to ride the "barbeque" train. I involuntarily read it as "bar-beck," and hold onto a momentary confusion before sadly shaking my head and allowing myself to feel just a tidge superior to whoever picked out that spelling. Of course, I'll be the first to acknowlege that orthographic command and superior pitmastery are not skills that occupy any sort of correlative relationship, but hot damn if that doesn't still get my white-girl-wearing-glasses undies in a bunch.
The etymological origins of "barbeque" aren't cloudy: "barbecue" (from barbacoa) evolved into the neon-sign-friendly "Bar-B-Q," which in turn branched into the further abbreviated "B-B-Q" on one hand, and on the other deteriorated into the retrofitted spelling "barbeque." And now it's in the dictionary (at least, it's in a dictionary. It still hasn't become an acceptable variant in the OED, which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my personal bible).
A quick and highly unscientific poll revealed that the majority of my acquaintances who are on the internet right at this very moment go with the C spelling, though there is one fan of the Q. And there is one friend who perhaps encapsulates the essence of the concern, inasmuch as he replied to my question with "No-one cares." Though for the record, Nagrant's article is — spellings aside — very much worth the read.
I'd also like to give a shout-out to the ingenious barbequeue: "The line by the hotdog or hamburger stand."
[Photo via my favorite Flickr, The Southern Foodways Alliance]
Update: It has come to my attention that the pop quiz is a little slanted in Mr. Nagrant's favor, because the MP blogging typeface puts serifs on the capital I's (those little horizontal lines at top and bottom). On the NewCity site, the capital I looks pretty much identical to a lowercase L, as such: l 'Que.