Monthly Archives: October 2014

Where Does Pumpkin Spice Come From?

Pumpkination complete!

Pumpkination complete!

It seems that from about September until January, everything in the world mysteriously appears in a pumpkin spice variety. It wasn’t always this way. Just a few short years ago, the only thing you could get in pumpkin spice flavor was pumpkin pie. But then the slow pumpkination of the world began. First it was pumpkin spice coffee, then pumpkin spice donuts. The pumpkin spice muffins came next, followed shortly by pumpkin spice bacon. Everything is good when it’s baconated, but I fear that baconation in combination with pumpkination could produce a dangerously unstable compound.

That wasn’t the end, though. They also started making pumpkin spice shampoo, pumpkin spice deodorant, and pumpkin spice bath bombs. Not only could you eat pumpkin spice, but you could also bathe yourself in it and smell like it all day.  You could quite literally be a giant walking mess of pumpkin spice for at least five months out of the year.

This was all well and good, but then it happened. They went and pumpkinated the last thing that had, until recently, escaped the plodding progress of pumpkination: they started making Pumpkin Spice Oreos. I could ignore the pumpkin spice bread and the pumpkin spice butter, but once pumpkin spice founds its way into the beloved Oreo, I knew I had to investigate.

The first thing I had to do was trace the source of this pernicious piquancy. This would have been quite difficult for most people, but my previous experience with the Vast Soursop Conspiracy had given me a lot of practice in finding secret lairs and obscure hideouts. When I had completed my calculations, I was shocked to realize that this vast pumpkin-spice operation had been operating almost right under my nose the entire time. I’d always wondered why that one part of the local shopping mall had suddenly been walled off, removed from the map, and never spoken of again. As it happened, that was the very place where all of this pumpkin spice was being made.

I arrived at the mall and began looking around, while pretending to be an innocent shopper with no interest in pumpkin spice whatsoever. No one really seemed to notice until I began asking a few innocent questions about what happened to the rest of the mall. At that point, people started to get a little nervous. They told me that I must be confused, and that the area had been closed some time ago, and that in fact it had never existed at all. Clearly I wasn’t going to get a straight answer, so I was going to have to investigate on my own. I needed to find a way into this secret space that everyone said had never existed. I needed to create a diversion.

I thought about it for a moment, and then I came up with the perfect idea. As loudly as I could, I pointed toward a random store and shouted, “Oh my god! They just released pumpkin spice toothpaste!” In an instant, everyone began running toward the promise of yet another pumpkin spice product. This gave me the chance to slip through a door and into the terrifying world that lay behind it.

What I found was a vast, dimly lit factory filled with rumbling machines, bubbling vats, and enormous pipes. I moved stealthily at first, but I soon realized that no one was taking any notice of me. It was as if the idea that anyone could even locate this place, let alone actually get inside, was completely incomprehensible to whoever was running this operation.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized that the factory was staffed, not by humans, but by creatures that I can only describe as pumpkin spice elves. These weren’t the happy little elves that make toys for children at Christmas; these were the hideous, menacing elves that appear in your nightmares. They shuffled about, turning valves and stirring mixtures. They seemed almost completely oblivious to anything other than their role in the production of pumpkin spice.

After I’d observed them for a while, a gong sounded. The creatures who had been tending to the machines and working with the ingredients stopped what they were doing and began to shuffle away. Moments later, a new group of creatures took up their positions and continued the pumpkin spice production. I followed the group that had just stopped work to find out where they were going.

After taking a few turns and passing several unidentifiable spice-making machines, I found myself in a large, open room. In the center of the room was what appeared to be a throne, and seated there was a being that I don’t even have the words to describe.  All I know is that she (I’m assuming she was a she) was clearly the ruler of this little kingdom: she was the Queen of Pumpkin Spice. One by one, the elves, or whatever they were, approached her. She said something to them in a language that I couldn’t understand, then then gave each of them a small vial. Each elf immediately opened the vial and frantically drank the contents. Shortly thereafter, the elf appeared to enter a state of extreme euphoria, as if whatever were in the vial was the elixir of life itself.

At one point, the queen appeared to admonish one of the elves, and refused to give it a vial. The elf became panicked and distraught, and seemed to plead with the queen to change her mind. When it became obvious that the queen would not change her mind, this unfortunate elf collapsed to the floor, writhing and screaming. The rest of the creatures ignored it, and seemed focused only on obtaining their own share of whatever substance the queen was handing out.

Sensing an opportunity to make a significant discovery, I decided to take a risk and get in line with the rest of the creatures. Within a few minutes, I was standing in front of the Queen of Pumpkin Spice herself. Without so much as a second glance, she handed me a vial. I carefully opened it, and the smell was familiar. I carefully put the tiniest drop on the tip of my finger and touched it to my tongue. With the intensity of a bolt of lightning, all of my senses were overpowered with the essence of pumpkin spice: I tasted pumpkin spice, I smelled pumpkin spice, I felt pumpkin spice, I saw pumpkin spice, I heard pumpkin spice. For a brief moment, I think I actually was pumpkin spice.

I immediately realized what was going on. These creatures, whatever they were, were completely addicted to pumpkin spice. It seems likely that they are born that way. This gives the Queen of Pumpkin Spice a virtual army of laborers who will do her bidding without question in exchange for a concentrated sample of the very product they work to produce. Whatever she is, and whatever they are, they seem to have a relationship somewhere between symbiosis and slavery. The elves make the spice, she keeps them docile by giving them some of it, and then she sells the rest to the pumpkin-addled public. I never did figure out what she gets from this arrangement. Maybe she just thrives on the sense of power, or maybe there is some even more powerful spice that she is working to attain.

After all I’d witnessed, I felt it best to make a quiet retreat before I was noticed. I slipped out the same way I’d come in, and tried not to let anyone see the look of horror on my face. One thing is certain: this operation, as efficient as it was, could not possibly supply all of the world’s pumpkin spice. There have to be others like it, with their own nightmarish crews and their own nightmarish queens. So next time you see a store that’s been inexplicably boarded up, or part of a building that is suddenly and permanently closed, you can remind yourself that there is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. It’s probably not filled with rumbling machines, bubbling vats, and enormous pipes. There probably aren’t any strange creatures shuffling around inside, desperately hoping to earn the approval of their hideous queen. Just tell yourself that it’s probably not a pumpkin spice factory. It’s probably not a pumpkin spice factory. It’s probably not a pumpkin spice factory…

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Chomsky To The Rescue!

As you might have guessed by my lack of recent contributions, I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in the task of learning the Mangoustani language. After poring over Volume 1 for many weeks, I thought I might actually be making some progress. Then I opened up Volume 2, only to find a brief explanation stating that the analysis of the Mangoustani language is still underway, and that the remainder of the books were blank. They were apparently included merely for their aesthetic value. Along with this enervating explanation was a coupon that I can return in order to receive the actual books once they are written (shipping and handling not included), as well as a suggestion that if I need to learn Mangoustani right away, I should probably enroll in a linguistics course and learn how to analyze the language myself.

Faced with such a dilemma, most people would simply throw the blank books away and start binge watching Breaking Bad. Unfortunately, the political tension in the former East Mangoustan makes such a decision impossible. And besides, I’m never one to pass up a good challenge. After several weeks of learning the ins and outs of phonology and morphology, I arrived at the unit on syntax. I learned about the linguistic theories of Leonard Bloomfield and Noam Chomsky. Suddenly, the whole world made sense.

The linguists studying the Mangoustani language are obviously trying to understand it based on Bloomfieldian structural linguistics. That’s obviously why there were so many examples of rote phrases and so much emphasis on the surface structure of the Mangoustani language. In case you didn’t know, Bloomfield’s approach emphasizes “explicit systems of relations between linguistic units” rather than focusing on the mental processes that people use to generate the things they say (“Linguistics” para. 3).  Once I’d learned about this distinction, I understood the reason that the Mangoustani language textbooks were so full bizarre phrases and a were based on a “rigid set of learned rules” (Rowe & Levine, 138). I’d love to share some of these phrases with you, but I haven’t yet installed the Mangoustani language pack on my computer.

It seemed that the theories of Noam Chomsky would be a much better way to understand this confusing cant. Instead of analyzing language in terms of mimicry and the production of fixed phrases, he explained that language learning was an innate capacity of the human mind. His mentalist approach to linguistics suggests that all people mentally form ideas in a similar way (the “deep structure” of an utterance) before applying subconscious grammatical transformations to generate the actual sentence (the “surface structure”). (Strässler para. 5) It seems like this would be a much better way to understand the complexities of the Mangoustani language, and it would avoid spending months memorizing dubious phrases such as, “this cow is disrespectful to most hedgehogs.” Under the Bloomfieldian model, one would have to hear that phrase before he or she could use it in a conversation, but the Chomskian approach shows that the productive nature of language would allow a competent speaker to produce this utterance spontaneously if the need arose. And in the former East Mangoustan, that need seems very likely to arise.

WORKS CITED

“Linguistics.” Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 4 October 2014.

Rowe, B. and Levine, P. A Concise Introduction to Linguistics Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2009. Print.

Strässler, J. “Mentalism.” Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language. Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 4 October 2014.

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