Well I'll be pickled!
M. sometimes has sandwiches for his lunch - monster-size American deli-style sandwiches, not the mayonnaise-covered soggy ones you find in so many cafes in London. I asked him what was in his.
"Turkey, bacon, and pickles," he said.
"What kind of pickles?" I asked.
"The pickles... like the ones you had with your panini when we were in Central Park, don't you remember?" he said.
"You mean cucumber pickles?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Why don't you call them cucumber
pickles?" I asked.
"Because they are
pickles," he said.
"Hold on, so you're saying pickled cucumber
is called 'pickle
'?" I asked.
"Well, what else should I call them?" he asked back.
"Pickled cucumber," I said.
"No, they're just 'pickles'," M. said.
"What do you call pickled onions then? Like the ones you get in fish-and-chip shops?" I asked.
"Pickled onions," he said.
"And pickled garlic?"
"And pickled peppers?"
"Pickled peppers... Look, in the States, when you say 'pickles', you're just referring to cucumbers
"Why is that?"
"They're the most common form of pickles, I suppose."
"You're just making that up," I said.
"Well we'll see about that," he said. He read out to me the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of 'pickle', with emphasis on the bold words:
"Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English pekille.
1 : a solution or bath for preserving or cleaning: as a : a brine or vinegar solution in which foods are preserved b : any of various baths used in industrial cleaning or processing
2 : a difficult situation : PLIGHT pickle I was in -- R. L. Stevenson>
3 : an article of food that has been preserved in brine or in vinegar; specifically : a cucumber that has been so preserved
4 British : a mischievous or troublesome person"
I fairly choked.
"This doesn't make any sense!" I shouted. "Why should cucumbers get special treatment?"
"I suppose you're going to get out the Oxford English Dictionary now," M. said, dryly.
I didn't, but I have access to the Chambers English Dictionary, which is even better, in my opinion. I have copied out the definition from that tome here and highlight below the relevant section:
1 (also pickles) a preserve of vegetables, eg onions, cucumber or cauliflower, in vinegar, salt water or a tart sauce.
2 a vegetable preserved in this way.
3 the liquid used for this preserve.
4 colloq a mess; a quandary; a predicament • got herself in a terrible pickle.
5 colloq a troublesome child.
verb (pickled, pickling) to preserve something in vinegar, salt water, etc.
ETYMOLOGY: 14c: from German pekel. '