My mother's use of the word "spicy" (mild)

I’ve heard spicy used both ways. I actually think your mother’s way makes more sense.

This is spicy = This is full of flavors of various spices.

This is hot/peppery = This tastes like it has “oils derived from the tissues of one of many different species and cultivars of the capsicum plant” in it.

I think most people would interpret “this is peppery” to mean flavored with ground black pepper, but I don’t know. That’s what I would immediately think.

It’s kinda boggling reading how many replies here are actually disagreeing with the OP. The truth of it should be self-evident to any normal English-speaking person. It doesn’t matter if the mother’s usage “makes sense” in some theoretical, hypothetical alternate universe. That’s not the way the word is used in common usage. If someone asks “Do you like spicy food?” they don’t ever mean to include Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes in that category. Any normal English-speaking person would have no trouble correctly interpreting the meaning of that question.

Ironically, I have never heard anyone other than the OP use “pungent” to mean mouth-burning.

That said, just start putting nothing but flavorless gruel in Mom’s food bowl and the word “spicy” won’t come up much.


And there’s nothing odd about your mother’s use of “hot”, either.

This is an unfortunate side affect of family members taking care of older family members. They almost always wind up bickering over stupid stuff like this.

I wouldn’t judge the OP too harshly. I’ve seen my mom go through this frustration taking care of her mentally ill brother. And I’ve seen my GF go through this taking care of her mother.

Both, very intelligent women, that would normally be above such pettiness. But throw a family member into the mix that needs caring for and all bets are off. (After years of being slowly worn down.)

The real pitting here should be of the English language for having an inadequate lexicon.

There are at least four qualities of food that should have at least four unambiguous words, but they have to make do with sharing two:

Temperature heat: hot
Full of spices: spicy
Mouth-burning sensation of chili, etc.: spicy or hot
Sinus-clearing sensation of mustard, wasabi, etc.: spicy or hot

“No, mom, not spicy. They’re called ghost peppers and they’re a sweet Halloween treat. Now, dig in!”

Now I have to go dig up all my old Pungency Girls CDs.

“Hot” may be the most common meaning of “spicy.” But dictionaries often show multiple definitions. In Thai restaurants, you’re often asked to specify “how hot.” In many Houston restaurants, the word is picante.

Your mother is using “spicy” acceptably. Since you understand her meaning, there should be no problem. Apparently she is doing this to get your goat.

Good for her!

Forget all the talk about cinnamon, capsaicin, and allspice; this is the interesting part.

I have no idea what it means.

My mother had a strong tendency to – I was sure, deliberately – mispronounce things: to indicate / advertise that her mind was taken up by higher stuff, and that she wasn’t concerned with footling trivial accuracy. It sometimes made me feel homicidal (sorry, Mum).

Weak pitting. You should put a little heat on it and spice it up.

“Common usage” = the way I’ve always understood it.

The OP is full of hot, spicy beans, and so are you.

I’ve lived most of my life in the same general geographic region your Mother is from (southern OH/KY) and have known many people use spicy in that same way.

Seriously? This bugs you OP?

That’s nothing. I’m taking care of my mom on weekends and such. It’s a 100 mile drive one way. I had my little travel bottle of shampoo in the shower, and she wanted me to remove it because it might get wet.

This. And I definitely use spicy to mean “full of spices”. But I love the English language so I cannot rightfully Pit it.

Couldn’t disagree more. Spicy means that something has spices in it, not necessarily something that has capsaicin in it. First, spices with capsaicin in them aren’t the only way to make something hot. Notably, wasabi and horseradish are considered hot by most people and do not contain it. I’ve also even heard things that contain a lot of cinnamon or black pepper as being hot. Second, it’s not uncommon that I’ve heard things that are not hot but have a lot of other spices being described as spicy. Finally, I don’t even think there’s any ambiguity involved. If you’re describing a dish that’s characteristically hot and the term spicy is used, I’ll understand that to mean it’s hot. If one is describing something else, I’ll understand it in that context.

I’ve also never heard pungent used in the context you use it. At least in my experience, pungent is much more often used to describe smell than taste. Further, it typically refers to a strong and unpleasant smell. So, for instance, I’ve definitely heard stinky cheeses called pungent. I’ve never heard a dish described in that way. I wouldn’t doubt that there are people that do it, and I might be confused for a second if I heard it, but I wouldn’t feel the need to rant because I didn’t like how someone used that word.

Yes, they have different flavors, but that’s sort of the point of spices. I have a bunch of “herbs and spices” in my kitchen, and only a minority of them could meaningfully be described as hot, and even fewer have capsaicin in them. That’s the whole point of spice, to add different flavors to our food, not that they interact with our taste buds in the same way.

Well, there’s several people in this thread who use it that way or have heard others use it that way. Unless you’re a food critic or otherwise regularly discussing food more than most people, I don’t think your experience in this is expansive enough to really make a statement this definitive, as this thread demonstrates.

You’ve pointed out your personal limited definition of the word spicy. Capsaicin is one of countless spices. Maybe she things your definition of spicy is ridiculous and too narrow and that’s why she refuses to follow your usage.

Is it REALLY that confusing? When people say something is hot, is it that hard to ask “temperature hot or spicy hot?” If she says something is spicy, considering that she’s your mom and you’re fully aware how she uses the term, if it’s still confusing in the context, you could just ask her to clarify.

Frankly, I disagree that it’s “proper” to say something is pungent. There’s countless ways to describe how food tastes, and those ways vary upon where you are and how much experience on has in the culinary world. Again, in my experience, pungent most often refers to an unpleasantly strong smell. Even in the context of food, it usually means unpleasantly strong. If someone described food as pungent, I’d tend to understand that as a negative critique of the dish.
And, really, this is an easy fix. IMO, the best solution is to suggest to her and for you to start saying “spicy hot” as in “this dish is hot as a result of spices”. And, frankly, stop using “spicy” to refer just to food that has capsaicin in it, because that’s just ridiculously narrow and not even accurate.

You want aggravating?

How about a significant other or mother that fails to finish a sentence (that is supposedly a question) and then wonders why you aren’t answering.

And for laughs. My grandmother often talked about getting “mammy e o grams”.

Well congratulations OP on furthering your family’s culture of open contempt and disrespect for each other by being completely wrong and not letting it go.

I think I see your problem…

And when did 69 become elderly? :confused:

You mentioned she has no infirming condition, so if we asked her, what would be her reason for you living with her?