The other day, journalism lecturer Victor Fung wrote in his newspaper column about the word ‘muffin top’, which he ran into in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. He found the word funny and wrote about it in his column.
Interestingly, the word caught my attention too when I was watching the film. Julia Roberts used the word in passing when, over a casual conversation, her companion from Sweden complained about the extra fat that had built up around her waist as a result of over-eating while vacationing in Italy. Julia Roberts used the word when she confessed that something similar was happening to her.
When I heard the word during the movie, I was amused because I then realized that that there is a word in English to refer to what we would call ‘spare tire’ in Cantonese. Also, the word ‘muffin top’ sounded funny to me.
Now, I’m even more amused to know that the word in the film has caught the attention of another guy, who also finds the word funny. This is a very amusing discovery to me.
In Cantonese, the word ‘spare tyre’ is also funny. Someone should do a PhD on these funny little words in languages. Here are the theoretical questions: (1) What are the cross-linguistic features of these funny little words? (2) From a psycholinguistics perspective, why do we find these words funny?
I have a ‘spare tyre’, of course. And I was going to announce that I also had muffin top, when I looked it up in Urban Dictionary, which defined ‘muffin top’ as:
Muffin-Top is a word used to describe the strange and bizarre waist scrunching effect that results when females wear tight fitting, low-rise/hip-hugger pants along with small-sized, navel exposing, mid-riff tops.
So, I can’t say I have muffin top. What do I say in English then?
So I tried and googled ‘spare tyre’. To my surprise and amusement, ‘spare tyre’ is the English word that refers to the extra fat around the waistline in both males and females.
Now, I can proudly announce, I have a spare tyre.
(There is one remaining question: Which word came into being first, the English ‘spare tyre’, or the Cantonese ‘spare tyre’? Is the Cantonese ‘spare tyre’ a lexical borrowing from English, or is it a lexial coincidence?)