The Straight Dope | The Straight Dope | Chicago Reader

The Straight Dope 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

We were all sitting around lunch the other day and the question of what sweetbreads are came up. I voted for the thymus gland, but I was tremendously outnumbered by votes for the pancreas. Other suggestions included the brain, salivary gland, and even some sort of reproductive organ. I won't comment on the mental status of the person giving the latter suggestion, but you may feel free to do so. --M.K., Baltimore

Boy, nothing like a little light conversation to improve the digestion. As it happens, you and the pancreas bloc are both right. There are two kinds of sweetbreads: stomach sweetbreads (also known as heart or belly sweetbreads), which are an animal's pancreas, and neck (AKA throat or gullet) sweetbreads, an animal's thymus gland. (The animal in question can be a hog or calf or just about any other large mammal, I gather.) They're called sweetbreads for the obvious reason that if you called them thymus glands or whatever you couldn't give the damn things away. The art of euphemism goes back a long way.

What does the "K" in K-Mart stand for? --Ron Tasket, Atlanta

It's K mart, Ron, not K-Mart. You know what these details mean to me. The K stands for Kresge, as in Sebastian S. Kresge, founder of the S.S. Kresge dime store chain. Sebastian--a man so cheap he gave up golf because he couldn't stand to lose the balls--retired as president of the company in 1929, long before there was any such thing as a K mart. But his name continued to grace the firm's stores. Then, in 1959, one Harry B. Cunningham took over. Harry was a former newspaper reporter and, like many of that breed, a man of subtle (if unappreciated) genius. Sensing that the dime store concept was a bit dated and apparently having cornered the market on blue light bulbs, he decided the time had come for a bold new concept. K mart, with the Kresge name sensibly boiled down to the bare essentials, was it. The first K mart opened in a Detroit suburb in 1962, and shortly thereafter they were sprouting like dandelions nationwide.

By 1977 more than 1,200 of Kresge's 1,600 outlets were K marts, so management proposed changing the company's name to K mart Corporation. This did not sit well with Kresge's son Stanley, who felt the younger generation was insufficiently appreciative of his father's legacy, but he went down to stunning electoral defeat at the annual meeting, 89 million shares to 11 million. People these days just have no respect.

Please answer this question--I've been lying awake nights just wondering. Why do we drive on the parkway and park in the driveway? --Deidra Nightingale, Baltimore

This is the third time I've gotten this question this month, Deidra. It must be the sunspots. You drive on the parkway and park on the driveway for the obvious reason that if you parked on the parkway you'd get arrested. Apart from that there's no great mystery. The fact is you can drive on the driveway; indeed, this is the very essence of drivewayness--to enable you to drive from the street to your garage. Parking is only incidental. Next, we must recognize that "park" in the sense of tended greenery (a parkway is obviously supposed to look like a road through a park) and "park" in the sense of stowing your vehicle, though deriving from the same root, diverged in meaning long ago. In Old French, a parc was an enclosure. To this day a military park means an area where vehicles are stored and serviced. As early as 1812 there was a verb "to park," meaning to store one's howitzers in a military park. This carried over to carriages and ultimately to any sort of vehicle. Our notion of landscaped parks, meanwhile, derives from the medieval practice of enclosing game preserves for the use of the aristocracy. The term was later applied to the grounds around a country estate, then to royal parks in London to which the proles were grudgingly admitted, and finally to any landscaped public grounds. The idea of enclosure is still evident in expressions like "ball park," for an enclosed playing field. Any more questions, smart aleck?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Cecil Adams

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Frankenstein Theater Wit
October 24
Performing Arts
The Better Half Steppenwolf Theatre, 1700 Theatre
November 08

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories