Recently I came across a word so evocative I wish I’d invented it myself: picklesome, an adjective meaning “characteristic or typical of a pickle.” So what is typical of a pickle? There are all kinds of pickles, sweet or sour, made from cucumbers soaked in vinegar or brine. However, the term can be applied to an astonishing variety of other foodstuffs treated in this fashion to preserve them against spoilage: onions, turnips, olives, cabbage (sauerkraft), fruit (watermelon rinds), poultry (eggs), fish (pickled herring), and meat (pigs’ feet). Pickles of one sort or another go back some 4,000 years. Before refrigeration, there were few other methods for preserving perishable food items. Also, pickles were tasty. Julius Caesar was a pickle lover, as were Queen Elizabeth I of England, George Washington and Napoleon. Cleopatra believed eating pickles made her more beautiful, and Aristotle praised their healing benefits. According to Pickle Packers International, Inc., Americans eat 2.5 billion pounds of pickles per year, or about 8.5 pounds each.

The word “pickle” lends itself to various metaphorical meanings, as when we get into a jam (another metaphor). Indeed, the only literary reference I could find for “picklesome” uses the term in this sense. In his novel Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon describes a character as a picklesome youth, which I suspect sends many readers scurrying to their dictionaries. Pynchon no doubt meant that he was a troublesome youth, rather than someone who was otherwise pickled, or drunk.

One of the peculiarities of pickles (the edible variety) is that they have near-zero caloric value. In fact, the label on the pickle jar will show zero calories per serving, even though there may be some negligible nutritional value if you ate a ton of them. This could set up a situation in which you might starve to death faster if you were locked in a room full of pickles than if there was no food at all. The reason is that the energy required to eat them would be greater than their nutritional value. At the very least, an exclusive diet of pickles might not keep you from starving to death, no matter how many you ate – a situation that might fairly be characterized as picklesome.

I can think of other situations in which the benefit derived from a given activity does not justify the energy required to perform it. Atheists no doubt feel this way about most religious activity. And although I am not an atheist, I find a lot of ritual practices to be – shall we say? – superfluous. While I enjoy a good spectacle as much as the next person, I fail to see what spiritual sustenance can be derived from empty pomp. Admittedly, I may be somewhat biased in this regard. I grew up as a low-church Episcopalian, so there weren’t a lot of frills to our worship services. Who am I to judge the superfluity of religious practices that others may find meaningful? Still, I can’t help noting that the Bible itself often portrays priests and their practices in a negative light. The prophet Isaiah thundered, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of·burnt offerings·of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” Jesus likewise warned of religious scribes who liked to parade around in long robes and occupy the best seats in synagogues. He cautioned people against heaping up empty phrases when praying so that they will be heard for their many words. He instead taught them the Lord’s payer, a model of concision. Whatever else might be said of Jesus’ brand of religious observance, it was not picklesome.

Isaiah 1:11
Luke 20:46
Matthew 6:7

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