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Some Linguistic Issues With Weight

“God said, Let there be light, and there was light.”

That was long, long ago. More recently, some advertising man said, “Let there be lite ,” and, God help us, there was lite .” Lite , presumably, was created to make life easier for people who have problems with spelling and pronunciation. Lite obviously rhymes with bite. It also rhymes with byte, bight, and indict-- and, appropriately, with blight.

For what seems like a decade, we’ve been bombarded, especially if we are fans of televised sports, by a surfeit of what I think of as Three-Stooges-class humor involving the confusion of various kinds of lights with an abomination labeled light or lite beer. “Gimme a light,” says some poor boob, and millions of dollars’ worth of all hell breaks loose in the form of theatrical lighting, when all the guy wants is “a light beer.”

Light beer (some beers seem to be light and some lite, and I’m not going to write lite unless I have to) is generally touted as light not because it is lighter in color than regular beer, nor even because it has fewer calories, but because it has “ less calories.” Well, I suppose beer advertising is designed to appeal to those of us with a Three Stooges mentality, so less calories is probably appropriate. Highfalutin words like fewer could be jarring and thus counterproductive in the old Three Stooges Taproom.

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The reason light beer has fewer calories than regular beer is probably that it has less alcohol by volume. I’ve tasted light beer a couple of times, and to me it tastes like nothing but watered beer. I could be mistaken, but I’ve been drinking beer for at least 45 years, and while I don’t consume nearly so much now as I did in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the old taste buds are still active, and my first taste of light beer led me to refer to it as a “beer highball.” Light beer costs the same as regular beer, so it seems to me that if you buy light beer you could economize by changing to old-fashioned beer and adding water.

Obviously, light is a versatile word. Regarding “light beer,” it means “containing less alcohol.” About 10 years ago, light beer had a different meaning. You might remember that back then, most of the brewers, at least here in California, changed the size of the standard beer can from 12 ounces to 11 ounces. With no fanfare whatsoever, they simply shrank the cans. I guess beer drinkers caught on. Twelve-ounce cans have been back for some time now.

Have you noticed that the coffee companies have pulled a similar stunt lately? I noticed that one brand of coffee cost almost 20% less than the one I usually bought. Naturally, I switched to the cheaper brand. I could at least give it a try, and I admit that I’m not a critical connoisseur of coffee. Today, I’ll admit with some embarrassment that I actually continued to buy the cheaper brand for several weeks until I just happened to notice that the can, which looked like all coffee cans, said on its label “13 Oz.” Some sharp entrepreneur had made a breakthrough: the 13-ounce pound of coffee. No wonder the can cost almost 20% less. It contained almost 20% less.

Such a brilliant invention--the 13-ounce pound--could not be kept exclusively by the Folger’s folks (for it was they who introduced it, at least to me). Nowadays, the only coffees I can find in my local supermarket that stay with the old unimaginative 16-ounce can are French Market and Martinson’s. All the others seem to have discovered the advantages of the 13-ounce pound of coffee. Again, they haven’t put forth a big publicity campaign announcing the new, easier-to-carry size.

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I’ve switched to the 16-ounce brands. They may be heavier, but I can use the workout.


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