What word or phrase does your mother always say?
1709, an antiquarians' revival to describe the medieval prose narratives of Iceland and Norway, from Old Norse saga "saga, story," cognate with Old English sagu "a saying" (see saw (n.2)). Properly, a narrative composition of Iceland or Norway in the Middle Ages, or one that has their characteristics. Meaning "long, convoluted story" is from 1857.
(WPI) A cuspy but bogus raving story about N random broken people.
Here is a classic example of the saga form, as told by Guy Steele (GLS):
Jon L. White (login name JONL) and I (GLS) were office mates at MIT for many years. One April, we both flew from Boston to California for a week on research business, to consult face-to-face with some people at Stanford, particularly our mutual friend Richard Gabriel (RPG).
RPG picked us up at the San Francisco airport and drove us back to Palo Alto (going logical south on route 101, parallel to El Camino Bignum). Palo Alto is adjacent to Stanford University and about 40 miles south of San Francisco. We ate at The Good Earth, a "health food" restaurant, very popular, the sort whose milkshakes all contain honey and protein powder. JONL ordered such a shake - the waitress claimed the flavour of the day was "lalaberry". I still have no idea what that might be, but it became a running joke. It was the colour of raspberry, and JONL said it tasted rather bitter. I ate a better tostada there than I have ever had in a Mexican restaurant.
After this we went to the local Uncle Gaylord's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. They make ice cream fresh daily, in a variety of intriguing flavours. It's a chain, and they have a slogan: "If you don't live near an Uncle Gaylord's - MOVE!" Also, Uncle Gaylord (a real person) wages a constant battle to force big-name ice cream makers to print their ingredients on the package (like air and plastic and other non-natural garbage). JONL and I had first discovered Uncle Gaylord's the previous August, when we had flown to a computer-science conference in Berkeley, California, the first time either of us had been on the West Coast. When not in the conference sessions, we had spent our time wandering the length of Telegraph Avenue, which (like Harvard Square in Cambridge) was lined with picturesque street vendors and interesting little shops. On that street we discovered Uncle Gaylord's Berkeley store. The ice cream there was very good. During that August visit JONL went absolutely bananas (so to speak) over one particular flavour, ginger honey.
Therefore, after eating at The Good Earth - indeed, after every lunch and dinner and before bed during our April visit --- a trip to Uncle Gaylord's (the one in Palo Alto) was mandatory. We had arrived on a Wednesday, and by Thursday evening we had been there at least four times. Each time, JONL would get ginger honey ice cream, and proclaim to all bystanders that "Ginger was the spice that drove the Europeans mad! That's why they sought a route to the East! They used it to preserve their otherwise off-taste meat." After the third or fourth repetition RPG and I were getting a little tired of this spiel, and began to paraphrase him: "Wow! Ginger! The spice that makes rotten meat taste good!" "Say! Why don't we find some dog that's been run over and sat in the sun for a week and put some *ginger* on it for dinner?!" "Right! With a lalaberry shake!" And so on. This failed to faze JONL; he took it in good humour, as long as we kept returning to Uncle Gaylord's. He loves ginger honey ice cream.
Now RPG and his then-wife KBT (Kathy Tracy) were putting us up (putting up with us?) in their home for our visit, so to thank them JONL and I took them out to a nice French restaurant of their choosing. I unadventurously chose the filet mignon, and KBT had je ne sais quoi du jour, but RPG and JONL had lapin (rabbit). (Waitress: "Oui, we have fresh rabbit, fresh today." RPG: "Well, JONL, I guess we won't need any *ginger*!")
We finished the meal late, about 11 P.M., which is 2 A.M Boston time, so JONL and I were rather droopy. But it wasn't yet midnight. Off to Uncle Gaylord's!
Now the French restaurant was in Redwood City, north of Palo Alto. In leaving Redwood City, we somehow got onto route 101 going north instead of south. JONL and I wouldn't have known the difference had RPG not mentioned it. We still knew very little of the local geography. I did figure out, however, that we were headed in the direction of Berkeley, and half-jokingly suggested that we continue north and go to Uncle Gaylord's in Berkeley.
RPG said "Fine!" and we drove on for a while and talked. I was drowsy, and JONL actually dropped off to sleep for 5 minutes. When he awoke, RPG said, "Gee, JONL, you must have slept all the way over the bridge!", referring to the one spanning San Francisco Bay. Just then we came to a sign that said "University Avenue". I mumbled something about working our way over to Telegraph Avenue; RPG said "Right!" and maneuvered some more. Eventually we pulled up in front of an Uncle Gaylord's.
Now, I hadn't really been paying attention because I was so sleepy, and I didn't really understand what was happening until RPG let me in on it a few moments later, but I was just alert enough to notice that we had somehow come to the Palo Alto Uncle Gaylord's after all.
JONL noticed the resemblance to the Palo Alto store, but hadn't caught on. (The place is lit with red and yellow lights at night, and looks much different from the way it does in daylight.) He said, "This isn't the Uncle Gaylord's I went to in Berkeley! It looked like a barn! But this place looks *just like* the one back in Palo Alto!"
RPG deadpanned, "Well, this is the one *I* always come to when I'm in Berkeley. They've got two in San Francisco, too. Remember, they're a chain."
JONL accepted this bit of wisdom. And he was not totally ignorant - he knew perfectly well that University Avenue was in Berkeley, not far from Telegraph Avenue. What he didn't know was that there is a completely different University Avenue in Palo Alto.
JONL went up to the counter and asked for ginger honey. The guy at the counter asked whether JONL would like to taste it first, evidently their standard procedure with that flavour, as not too many people like it.
JONL said, "I'm sure I like it. Just give me a cone." The guy behind the counter insisted that JONL try just a taste first. "Some people think it tastes like soap." JONL insisted, "Look, I *love* ginger. I eat Chinese food. I eat raw ginger roots. I already went through this hassle with the guy back in Palo Alto. I *know* I like that flavour!"
At the words "back in Palo Alto" the guy behind the counter got a very strange look on his face, but said nothing. KBT caught his eye and winked. Through my stupor I still hadn't quite grasped what was going on, and thought RPG was rolling on the floor laughing and clutching his stomach just because JONL had launched into his spiel ("makes rotten meat a dish for princes") for the forty-third time. At this point, RPG clued me in fully.
RPG, KBT, and I retreated to a table, trying to stifle our chuckles. JONL remained at the counter, talking about ice cream with the guy b.t.c., comparing Uncle Gaylord's to other ice cream shops and generally having a good old time.
At length the g.b.t.c. said, "How's the ginger honey?" JONL said, "Fine! I wonder what exactly is in it?" Now Uncle Gaylord publishes all his recipes and even teaches classes on how to make his ice cream at home. So the g.b.t.c. got out the recipe, and he and JONL pored over it for a while. But the g.b.t.c. could contain his curiosity no longer, and asked again, "You really like that stuff, huh?" JONL said, "Yeah, I've been eating it constantly back in Palo Alto for the past two days. In fact, I think this batch is about as good as the cones I got back in Palo Alto!"
G.b.t.c. looked him straight in the eye and said, "You're *in* Palo Alto!"
JONL turned slowly around, and saw the three of us collapse in a fit of giggles. He clapped a hand to his forehead and exclaimed, "I've been hacked!"
[My spies on the West Coast inform me that there is a close relative of the raspberry found out there called an "ollalieberry" - ESR]
[Ironic footnote: it appears that the meme about ginger vs. rotting meat may be an urban legend. It's not borne out by an examination of mediaeval recipes or period purchase records for spices, and appears full-blown in the works of Samuel Pegge, a gourmand and notorious flake case who originated numerous food myths. - ESR]