I’m in a silly debate with a friend about a “deli” at the airport. It is called Comida Buena. The sign also says “Deli.” When I mentioned it to my friend, I said that “I got a sandwich at that deli between A & B terminals.” He said there isn’t a deli there. The conversation went on. We made a bet and he won’t pay up (in piggyback rides, not money). Now he says the definition of deli (delicatessen) involves selling cheese or meats or other semi prepared items which does not fit what this place sells (fully prepared items). Ok, I can see that, but I called it a deli bc that’s what the sign says. Plus lots of people refer to sandwich shops as delis even if it doesn’t fit the true definition of the word.
So, I’m trying to argue that since the sign for the place calls itself a deli, that is a functional or nominal definition of what it is. However, I am not able to support this point with the online research I’ve done so far. Can you help me out? Isn’t there some legitimate (or semi-legitimate) term for describing how when something is named a word (eg deli) it helps define what it is?
“functional definitions” seem to be something else, as are “nominal definitions.” Just Google them and you will see.
Thanks for your interest and help :)
Ancient adage: if it quacks and waddles like a duck, then it is a duck.
Both your friend and you have a point, but I’m on your side. I also agree with Robert that the sign is only a small part of your argument.
Many years ago, delis mostly sold bulk deli products, and sandwiches were secondary. Today, the market is different. Most people who go to a deli are looking for a quick lunch.
In Manhattan there are hundreds of delis that would give you a confused look if you asked for a pound of boiled ham. While they serve deli sandwiches, they don’t sell by the pound. For that, most go to the deli counter of a supermarket.
I think your friend has missed this minor shift in culture which is reflected in the usage in many regions. People in New York certainly refer to shops that sell only sandwiches made from deli products as delis. No dictionary I checked indicates that the deli products sold at a delicatessen had to be available in bulk.
Do a map search of Manhattan on deli, pick ten at random, and call to see if they sell sandwiches and if they sell by the pound. I think you will win. The cultural change (ie. supermarket shopping) has influenced a small semantic shift.
dilettante said Carroll said Humpty said: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
I used similar reasoning when I needed to construct the term hemispherian (one who lives in a particular hemisphere, north or south). See this thread. But unlike Humpty, at least I was working within logical linguistic guidelines. And I believe that’s what Heather was looking for when she started this thread. The word deli has no doubt evolved in the manner described by Glenn. Here in Phoenix AZ I know of only one deli that sells both meals and bulk foodstuff … and it’s a traditional Jewish deli that’s been in business for over 30 years.
Robert also makes a good point about labels vs. “things they label.” Brings to mind Magritte’s famous “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” painting.
So I guess I’d have to come come down on the side of usage-based definitions, at least in the case of deli.
I would call a usage based ruling as a descriptive linguistics approach, as opposed to an authority based ruling as a prescriptive linguistics approach. In this lexical case, Heather’s friend may be either prescriptive, or descriptive of a different language community from Heather, from the alleged deli owner, and from me. The traditional prescriptive lexical resources, dictionaries, don’t really seem to make the strong distinction that Heather’s friend wants to make.
Any way you slice it (heh) I side with Heather.
I don’t think the sign is a small part of your argument, I think it is totally irrelevant. But I agree with Glenn that the definition has changed. Delis in Texas were almost non-existent until about fifteen years ago. At that time a number of businesses began to appear calling themselves delis. Some would sell bulk meat plus sandwiches but most would only sell sandwiches. Now there are many sandwich-only shops that call themselves “deli”. I refer you to one of my favorites, Jason’s Deli, a chain that is spreading from the south both west and north. Here is their website: <http://www.jasonsdeli.com/ Check their menu.
Robert was right when he said to campaign to gather support for your side, except there is already a lot of support
Heather, you apparently have elected to forgo the linguistic approach in favor of a ‘functional/nominal’ approach that has only cold logic on which to stake your claim. I say that is unnecessary, because from the look of Comida Buena, linguistics may yet work to your advantage: the store looks like what it needs to be- a place with a chef and/or waiters who put together the products, sandwiches and soups, per order.
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