odorra pod

Consider the odorra pod. It grows in an Egyptianesque climate and is, for whatever reason, relatively rare. It may be hard to grow. It’s a cheery pink, long and narrow, contrasting with the plant’s vivid green leaves. It’s not a smooth pod, but scalloped, the lumps likely tracing interior beans. The pod is hard to open, although quite how hard, I cannot tell you: does it require pliers? In any event, when sufficiently boiled, it becomes a dish so covetable that it is traditionally served to its native land’s royal family as a first course.

There. Now you are one of the world’s experts on the odorra pod. There is nothing else to know about it. Not the plant it grows on, not its genus and species, not its care and feeding. Unless its creators choose to make up more about it, I have given you all there is to know about the subject.

The odorra pod, you see, is a fictional food with a made-up name. It exists on the all-ages gaming website Neopets, where it can be sold, bought, and eaten, although what it tastes like, I do not know.

Never before have so many food names been made up so frequently. Humans are immensely creative in the foods they create, but they don’t often coin wholly new words to describe them. Made-up food names, however, are a staple of many kinds of worlds from fantasy and science fiction, and a quick way to give verisimilitude to the alienness of a different world or place. They mimic the sheer variety of food and food-words among cultures in the real world. As a consequence, the burgeoning market for gaming in fantastical surroundings has led to more foods being made up. As players explore a world, they can encounter new and strange edibles, sketched out superficially.

In novels, there’s generally an incentive to limit the number of made-up foods, as there’s only so many invented words that a reader can feasibly learn without being distracted from the story. (See xkcd and Jo Walton’s recent column for Tor on made-up words.)

In explorable online worlds, in contrast, there is no effective limit, as each new creation adds the illusion of depth. Most of those foods, however, are no more well-rounded than the graphics which define them, and the assumptions about recognizable words within their names (“pod”) that the reader brings to them.

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*© S. Worthen 2009