“Of course they were donut-shaped” I finally replied. “Let’s say the ancient doughnut was shaped like the symbol for ‘pi’ (π). This shape would have defined what “donut-shaped” meant.” At the beginning, the baker might tell his neighbors he was making pi-shaped pastries called doughnuts. These future customers would have been confused because it would have sounded to them as if he had said “pie-shaped pastry”. Pies have always been pie-shaped, but never pi-shaped, though folks don’t usually mean it when they say something is pie-shaped, either. In preparing this essay, I found on the net an ad for a pie-shaped coffee table. It is nothing of the sort. It is rather “a piece-of-pie”-shaped coffee table.
“Donut-shaped” only carries meaning because we all know what a modern donut is shaped like (as well as the antiquated, day-old donut). Words for things having many different shapes or no distinct shape at all do not usually have the suffix “shaped” added to them. I marvel that so many people use the word “amoeba-shaped”. How helpful is that? As an amoeba can be almost any shape at all, so can amoeba-shaped coffee tables, pizzas or pancakes.
I think my friend meant to say that the first donuts in history were not inner-tube or life-preserver shaped. According to Noah Webster (1828), a doughnut, in his day, was “a small roundish cake, made of flour, eggs and sugar, moistened with milk and boiled in lard.” See, they were pie-shaped after all.
On another, but related event in my life, I recently called into Saturday Morning Live with Dick and Cheryl (WHO-Radio, Des Moines). The hosts had encouraged people to call in with their suggestions for items that were now coming in smaller sizes but for the same old price. Mentioned were things such as laundry detergent, candy bars, and certain canned foods. For example, a $1 bag of potato chips used to have 2.5 ounces in it, not it’s only 2.1 ounces.
I called in with my own suggestion: dress shirts. When I was in college, thirty years ago, I wore medium shirts. But over the years, manufacturers have been making medium shirts smaller and smaller. I now have to squeeze into extra-large ones. It may have something to do with donuts. Someone once told me that donuts, after they are eaten, have a special property that causes them to re-form, creating a donut-shape just above the waist line. I don’t think that is accurate. I prefer to describe myself as amoeba-shaped. That way you will have no idea the shape I’m in.
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