Am I the only person who has a hard time getting the words out of my mouth at Starbucks? It’s not that I’m tripped up by “a skinny venti caramel macchiato,” which, no matter how many times you say it, is a mouthful. It’s simply that I don’t like the language they force their customers to use. When did a small coffee become a “tall” coffee? Apparently at the same time that a medium become a “grande” and a large became a “venti.” And even the 20-ounce “venti” has now been dethroned by the “trenta,” which, according to the company’s website, logs in at a whopping 31 ounces. When you consider that the average human bladder holds only 18 ounces or so, you have to wonder why anyone would even want so much to drink—anyone other than a hiker severely dehydrated after hours and hours spent wandering around in the likes of Death Valley.
And so I resist both the gargantuan sizing and the silly nomenclature. I ask the cashier (or is that a barista?) for a “small coffee in a medium cup” (my devious way of ensuring that I get my money’s worth; this way, there’ll still be enough room in the cup for me to add as much milk as I want). “You mean a tall in a grande?” he asks me. “That’s right. A small in a medium.” My family rolls their eyes and pretends not to know me. I suppose I see their point—when in Rome, as they say—but on the other hand, I’ve got a point too. What’s so wrong with “small”? I thought the best things come in small packages, but apparently I was wrong. In the world of olives, there’s no such thing as small at all. Sizing starts at “large” or “jumbo" and goes up from there. In what world is a medium olive “colossal”? In the same world where large ones are “super mammoths.” And then there’s that strange entity known, not as a prawn, but as a “jumbo shrimp.” Talk about your oxymorons.
It’s not even our American Super Size Me attitude that I’m talking about—although, now that I think of it, I could go on for quite some time about movie theater tubs of popcorn and portion sizes (not to mention calorie content) at places like the Cheesecake Factory, recently voted “The Absolutely Worst Family Restaurant in America”—so much as I’m struck by our sheeplike willingness to believe that if you change the name, you change the thing too. Either we're gullible or in denial. Perfect example: how many calories can an ice cream cone have if it’s a “small”? A lot considering that today’s “small” cones have an eerie resemblance to frozen mushroom clouds. These days, if you want a small cone, you have to order a “kiddie cone.”
To each his own and far be it from me to deprive anyone of their (literally) gut-busting beverages or their super-sized burger and fries. But, by the same token, far be it from them to deprive me of a perfectly serviceable vocabulary of smallness. When I want a small coffee, I want a small coffee—not a tall one, not a “short” one, but a small one.