Words: esculent, n. and adj.

EVEN JOHNSON nods. In defining banana, he refers one to plantain, which is simply "an esculent fruit". Esculency applies to many fruits. A word that might waylay one into fearing scorn or revelling in praise, it is in fact disinterested: from the Latin esca - food - it is "something fit for food". First used by Massinger (1625), who said it was a learned term, it was favoured by Bacon.

The greatest esculent pleasure was Evelyn Waugh's eating the family's one, rationed banana while his children watched. Some consolation comes in the excellent William Bingley (1774-1823), who wrote on Wales, music, theology, botany, Hampshire (6,000 pages), world history (368 pages), and animals - such as "the esculent Swallow" and "esculent Snail".

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