Can there be any better word to describe, in its very being, the English language than “tongue”?
In order to qualify for this honor, the word would have to have several overlapping meanings across many disciplines, be at least a verb and a noun, and be spelled incomprehensibly.
The answer then, is yes.
It means both the organ of speech and an entire language. As a verb, to tongue something means to lick it. To lick also means “to drive out” or defeat, which is another old meaning for “tongue.” To hold your tongue means to stop speaking, not literally to hold your tongue. To be tongue-tied is to be unable to produce speech.
Geographically, a tongue is a protrusion of a glacier into the sea. A shoe has a tongue-shaped tongue which lies under the laces, which you must pull on to fasten your shoe.
Yet the word itself is spelled t-o-n-g-u-e, which one might pronounce ton-gew, rather than tung. A Tung is a deciduous tree native to China.
|The finished dish|
I wonder if our modern aversion to eating tongue is due to the fact that we do not like to bite our own tongues, and that it looks rather a lot like a penis?
Salads, Time-Life Books, 1979