There’s been a running joke in my family ever since my wife and I married 43 years ago. You see, my father-in-law, Marty Glynn had begun to cook a good bit soon after we married, since his wife, Mary, suffered a brain aneurysm that year and was in recovery for some time after that.
The joke had to do with his inaccurate name for the fruit (considered a vegetable in culinary circles) I had grown up calling “green pepper,” or “bell pepper.” Pop (as we call him now) always referred to the aforementioned food item as a “mango,” and the family’s handwritten recipes preserved the same incorrect name.
It was laughable to me that he persisted in using that term, since everyone knows that a mango is a Malaysian fruit distinctly different from a bell pepper. I just added that mistake to a list I was making, since in Ohio (where they have always lived) they also went trick-or-treating one night before Halloween night (they called it “Beggars Night”), and I figured if you could be that wrong about when to trick-or-treat you could be wrong about almost anything!
Through the years we have joked about this, and each time I read ingredients on one of their recipes I chuckle. I’ve even gotten a bit snarky about it all (in my superior knowledge), and when a new recipe we are trying calls for bell pepper I will say mango instead, just to be cute.
Well, more accurately . . . I used to make that joke. But no more.
After about 40 years of making this joke I was reading about mangoes (for some reason) and I happened upon an interesting historical fact that caught my eye. Truth be told, it floored me.
It seems that when mangoes were first shipped to the United States in the 1600s they had to be pickled since there was no refrigeration. Other food products (bell peppers, for instance) were preserved by pickling as well and soon many pickled food items were referred to as mangoes.
If you search the internet now you will find many corroborating stories about the use of this term mango in the U.S.A.
So . . . my father-in-law was just using the term he had grown up with, just as I had.
But I was so sure . . . . I was certain, in fact. No question about it!
Yet, I was wrong.
We live in a culture right now that allows for almost everything. We are all about inclusion. [Correction: we don’t like including the excluders, but that’s another article]. The historical pendulum has swung to the open-minded, everything is subjective, nothing is absolute side, and we are enjoying the freedom wrought by that, and beginning to suffer the freedom lost by that swing, too.
But it is never wrong to ask WHY you believe a given thing, WHY you take a particular stance, WHY you are so sure about your worldview. This is not just true for the dogmatic religious fanatic, but for the easy-go-lucky, live-as-you-please skeptic as well. The truth about a thing is not swayed by how strongly you support it, or how passionately you reject it.
Now, I have a decision to make, of course. I can persist in bad-mouthing those who call bell peppers mangoes. Or I can function with a fuller understanding of the terms. I choose the latter.
And what about you? Where in life have you drawn the lines so boldly that you will not even dream of taking a second look? Sometimes (I have learned) . . . there is more to see than I ever dreamed possible.
As to trick-or-treating a day early . . . you can forget about it!
Uh oh! I may have to do some research.
Thanks for sharing this story. Yes, Monica has repeated it many times. What a hoot. A dangerous hoot, but . . . a hoot nonetheless.
ivan, I read The Running Joke and wanted to tell something funny , concerning…”Mary, Marty, Monica , MANGO, and me. This happened around December 1952 Monica would have been about 10 months. Uncle Kenny wanted to prepare his famous spaghetti dinner; he sent us to grocery store for necessary ingredients, which included MANGOES. On our way home with groceries…Marty was driving, with me and baby Monica on my lap, up front; Mary in back. He turned a corner, and suddenly the door on my side flew open, and try as I may (to keep baby from flying out with me), we both went, along with sack of groceries they went first, then me with Monica on top. Mary in back seat laughing her head off…said she could only see my feet flying out the car door. Marty was irate…saying Mary, that’s our baby, and you laughing. Well, Monica was fine; I was skinned from top to bottom, and could hardly walk for a week. Well, back to the MANGOES, I fell right on top of them, totally squashing them all. After gaining his composure, he too, started laughing and said the mess I made looked like “something FROM YOU, instead of FOR YOU! You may have heard this story from Monica….just didn’t want it to a Lost Story.
I know, my dear. I am sorry for many attitudes and actions of my past (as you know). That’s one reason I wrote this piece. Sorry to have hurt you.
Good points made but I did not like your superior attitude and mockery about my dad and our use of language! That hurt a lot!
Thanks, Chief! I always appreciate your reading, connecting, and commenting.
Bob, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you. One person in my family (who will remain unnamed, for my health’s sake) disagrees with you re: the popularity of Beggar’s Night. Ha! And yes, I DO love words. Thanks for the comments.
Excellent post . . . both entertaining and embarrassing! Entertaining due to your pleasant conveyance of educational material (as usual). Embarrassing due to its moral being one that hits all of us squarely in the gut!
Hi Ivan. I really enjoyed this post. Long before I met Monica, I knew her father who was known and loved by all of the neighborhood kids as “Marty the Milkman”. As far as I was concerned, he could call a pepper whatever he liked. However, as you suggest, Marty wasn’t alone. Instead, I’m sure it’s a regional dialect. When I was young, our family also referred to a green pepper or bell pepper as a mango. In fact, one of our family’s favorite recipes was stuffed mangos. We also called the night before Halloween “Beggars Night”. However, that night didn’t replace Halloween and was given that name because kids were getting a jump start on the actual designated night (i.e. begging before Halloween). Our parents never let us go out on beggar’s night and at least in Portsmouth I don’t recall it being that popular.
I love linguistics. As a wordsmith, I’m betting you do, too. A few months ago, I had a discussion with my nephew Jacob–who also is from Portsmouth– concerning whether the correct term is ‘icing’ or ‘frosting’. This led to me finding this interesting site titled “22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From One Another”. https://www.businessinsider.com/22-maps-that-show-the-deepest-linguistic-conflicts-in-america-2013-6