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Long-gone John's knockout look sweetly complements Barack's


WORD OF THE DAY: Complement

Long-gone John's knockout look sweetly complements Barack's

A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd

Deputy features editor: Sunday Times

Did you know that Long Johns, before they became waist-to-ankle underwear, were sweet pastries served in bars?
I did not know this until I went online to try and find out where former US president Barack Obama sent the secret service to buy the woolly tights he wore underneath his trousers when he gave that speech at the icy Wanderers stadium on Tuesday.
Try as I might, however, I could not find out where the secret service went to buy their boss’s thermal leggings. I suppose that’s why they’re called the secret service.
You’d think a phalanx of square-jawed chaps in black suits and sunglasses with spiral wires coming out of their ears furtively pawing through racks of size-skinny flannels in a department store would have been noticed by someone, but perhaps the assistant and all the other shoppers who witnessed this spectacle had to sign non-disclosure agreements. Or maybe their memories were modified with those flashy things from Men in Black.Anyway. What I did find out is that Long Johns, made in large quantities for chilly American soldiers during World War 2, were most likely named after a 19th-century boxer called John L Sullivan, a trendsetter who instead of the usual shorts wore full-length, skin-tight underpants into the ring.
He caused quite a stir in his day, did Sullivan. Today we wouldn’t mind his figure-hugging ensemble because our sense of taste has been dulled by pelotons of Lycrists. Today we don’t even blink at such exhibitionism, but back in the 1800s, had Sullivan not been a talented boxer he’d probably have been arrested for indecency and languished in a dank Victorian jail.
Instead, his long pants caught on to the extent that now even ex-presidents feel comfortable wearing them – and are happy to tell everyone that they’re wearing them – on the world stage.
At least Obama wore trousers over his Long Johns, unlike the brazen Sullivan.
But back to those pastries. In Indiana, a Long John has long been what we might call an éclair, except without the cream or custard filling.
Once the pastry shell has been filled with cream or custard it is indeed called an éclair, but in Indiana it is also sold unfilled, and in this hollow state it is known as a Long John.The various explanations I found all refer to the Long John and its stuffed éclair cousin as “bar snacks”, which might seem a bit off to those accustomed to complimentary bowls of nuts and olives, but it seems the Indianans like something sweet with their beer.
Speaking of complimentary, one of the most common errors committed in food-and-wine writing is using “compliment” instead of “complement”. This confusion is completely understandable because of all the bars that serve complimentary olives or nuts.
Complimentary means either free or flattering. Complement means to make complete. A wine that complements a dish makes the whole experience a well-rounded one.A bottle of wine that compliments a dish, on the other hand, is one that leans over when empty and whispers: “Hey mushroom, your beret is like totally dope.”
If you put wine and food together and they make a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, they complement each other, just like Obama’s Long Johns complemented his ensemble on a wintry Highveld afternoon.
I wonder if the secret service also wore Long Johns, and whether they complimented each other on their wise choice?

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