Two Little Mysteries of the Language

Why do they call it “cream of tartar?” I know what tartar is: in this case it’s the residue left on the insides of wine casks after the grapes have fermented. Fair enough. But “cream?” That stuff is powder and doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to cream except in its color, and lots of things are that color. So all right, “powder of tartar” is something of a tongue-twister, and “tartar powder” sounds like tooth cleaner, but to call it cream seems very farfetched..
And here’s another little puzzler: When we first learned to read, we learned that a g followed by an a is always a hard g, like in “gavel” or “gasoline.” And that’s one rule of pronunciation that seems to hold true all the time, with one notable exception: margarine.
That g is followed by an a but is soft, like the g in “gentle” or “giant.’ Why is that? Of course, mar-gah-rin sounds funny and not quite right, but that’s probably only because we never hear or say it like that. What if, way back when margarine was invented, it was decided to follow the linguistic crowd and make the g hard, and everybody for generations was used to it that way? Methinks the soft-g pronunciation would sound pretty funny to us now.
“So, Ghostess, tell us,” asks the gadfly in the balcony, “What do YOU call the stuff you spread on your bread?”
To which I answer simply, “I call it butter, thanks. Real butter.”


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