What’s a meniscus?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: meniscus….

I am obsessed with food memoirs. So obsessed that I’m writing one myself. And part of my research is reading even more of these books. I’m gamely trying to prove the aphorism, ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’

This goal led me to the book Miriam’s Kitchen, written by Elizabeth Ehrlich and recommended to me by my friend Yehudit. It’s the memoir of a Jewish-American woman, a former writer for BusinessWeek Magazine. In it, she describes how she went from being a person who was ambivalent about her Jewish heritage to one who chose to live an Orthodox life. The reason? The influence of her mother-in-law, Miriam.

I enjoyed many chapters of this book, but the sentence that appealed to me most, used a precise, scientific term in an unusual way: meniscus. Here is how she used it:

So expertly was that applesauce heaped that it rose in a convex meniscus above the bowls’ edges, and yet not a drop ever spilled. 

I first learned the word in Physics 9, to mean the curved upper surface of a liquid in a tube. It appeared again in Biology 10, when I learned it is also a lens that is convex on one side and concave on the other. But I had never before heard it applied to apple sauce. Yet, as you can see from the photo above, it fits!

The etymology of the noun is equally fascinating. It comes from the Latin meniscus, which in turn comes from the Greek meniscus meaning “lunar crescent,” referring to the moon.

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