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.
“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.
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).
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.
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.