Sunday, 12 April 2009

Squalus acanthias and pollack

To say that the Belgians call them zeepaling (sea eel), the Germans call them seeaal (sea eel again) and that they are known to the French as saumonette is only a footnote to the long and complex story of the names for the spiny dogfish. These sad creatures labour under the handicap of being a kind of shark and being a member of the family squalidae; this is off-putting enough, but when you find out that they have no anal fin, that the males are identified by a pair of pelvic fins modified as sperm-transfer organs, or "claspers", and that gestation then lasts 22-24 months (long than with elephants, for God's sake), it is hardly surprising that only a great variety of names (in the UK, they can be huss or rock salmon>) ensures that people will want to eat them.

Similarly, coley and pollock (or pollack) never really cut the mustard for the marketing of fish in the Pollachius genus, because the first had long been firmly associated with something that cats eat and the second reminded one either of bollocks or of the derogatory name (in North America) for a gentleman from Warsaw, neither being something one would want to find on one's plate. Now we are being urged to eat them in order to preserve cod stocks, a cause dear to all our hearts, and Sainsbury's are telling us bossily that the word should be pronounced as the French do. This is confusing, since in the OED colin refers only to the American partridge; better if they had put it about that it is an English word like Bryan or Derek, or that it should be pronounced like the former four-star general C. Powell: coe-lin.

Anyway, Sainsbury's are really gung-ho about this fish, and are selling it in special packaging in bold, bright colours "inspired by Jackson Pollock". The designer has said " ...the new-look colin sleeve will be the star of the Sainsbury's store; we expect coachloads to travel by land and sea to see it". This seem a very modest expectation for such a bold venture: surely charter flights from New York will soon be on offer, combining private viewing of the bold bright pre-packaged fish shelves with a look at the latest thing in Gerhard Richter-inspired wrappings for the four-pack beetroots, and a night at the Heathrow Sheraton?

Since the news (or rather, the PR handouts) got round earlier this month the media have been flogging this extremely uninteresting story for all, or much more than, it's worth. And Sainsbury's have got it all wrong, anyway: colin is actually hake, and pollack is lieu jaune.

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