Pumpernickel

Pumpernickel is a bulbous bon vivant of phonetic splendor: say it once, it sounds like your mouth is already at a party to which your brain is just arriving; say it twice and it’s the grin-worthy punch line to an odd and unspoken joke; say it five times — pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel, pumpernickel — and it chugs like a animated freight train barreling through a cartoon landscape. Repetitions beyond five will guarantee a vacant seat beside you on the commuter train.

If you’re unfamiliar, Pumpernickel is a type of rye bread, a dense, chocolate-brown delight that makes ordinary sandwich fixings feel like they’re on a dress-up date. It’s not a word I hear often in Portland, where the flavor is known by the mundane moniker “dark rye,” but I still ask for “pumpernickel” — it confuses the various bass players who work at the downtown bagel shops, and I savor the brief pause as they mentally scroll through the list of bagel varieties to determine if I’m not speaking clearly, or not thinking clearly. It’s a deliciously awkward moment that I let linger momentarily before begrudgingly enunciating, “Sorry. Dark rye.”

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